Sen. Bob Hertzberg, author of new traffic-fine law, releases letter calling on ‘Commission on the Future’ to improve California’s court system

Commission hearing to begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8 in San Francisco

December 7, 2015

SACRAMENTO – Sen. Bob Hertzberg, author of a recent law to improve court access, today released a letter to a special panel reviewing key elements of court procedures relating to traffic fines and court funding.

Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, authored Senate Bill 405, which eliminated the requirement that all fines and penalties be paid before a driver can get a court hearing on a traffic ticket.

Addressed to Associate Justice Carol Corrigan, chair of the Commission on the Future of California’s Court System, Hertzberg urges panel members to “address what has become a crisis for both our court system and California residents – the evolution of our fine system into a revenue-generating center for the courts.”

The panel meets today beginning at 10 a.m. at the Judicial Council Conference Center, Malcolm M. Lucas Board Room, 455 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco.

The purpose of the hearing is to “study and recommend to the Chief Justice initiatives to effectively and efficiently serve California's diverse and dynamic population by enhancing access to justice,” according to a posted agenda. For more, click HERE:

The complete text of Hertzberg’s letter is below:

Dear Justice Corrigan and Commission on the Future Members:

I write today to address what has become a crisis for both our court system and California residents – the evolution of our fine structure into a revenue-generating center for the courts. The purpose of my letter is to submit preliminary comments regarding three inter-related items on the agenda for the Commission on the Future meeting on December 8: trial court funding, court-ordered debt, and traffic infractions. (Commission Agenda Items 2, 3, and 4.)

Let me start by emphasizing my appreciation for the work initiated by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and the Judicial Council this year.  It has been my pleasure, and truthfully inspirational, to work in partnership with the Chief Justice, the Judicial Council, and their respective staffs to make meaningful progress on this critical issue. We all know that more needs to be done, and with leadership from the Commission on the Future, the Judicial Council, the Chief Justice and dedicated advocates, I am very hopeful for the year ahead.

In March of this year, the U. S. Department of Justice issued a ground-breaking report on the Ferguson Police Department.  Much of the press attention – and rightly so – has been on the racial tensions and disparities that the Department found.  However, just as critical and fundamental is what the Department found about the conversion of law enforcement and judicial systems to revenue-generating agencies. 

Here in California we have seen the same evolution.  Recently I had the pleasure to address a White House convening of advocates on this issue and learned that the issue has a national face as well.  Around the country, we see court systems that have undergone the same modifications.

Of course the steady increase in add-ons to fines have well-documented impacts on California drivers, particularly low-income working families. But they also have the very fundamental implications for the court system that the Commission has identified. While figures vary depending on the source, the best estimate that we have been using is $10 billion in unpaid court-ordered debt outstanding.  That debt results in programmatic deficits for the courts as well as a shift in resources to collections efforts.  Neither of these impacts should be sustained over the long term.

Ironically the current system starves itself of revenue.  Fifteen percent of California drivers – over 4.2 million Californians – have had their licenses suspended at some point in the last eight years.  A recent study found that 88% of drivers with suspended licenses suffer some amount of income loss.  Some lost their jobs because they need a license to drive as part of their work; others because they cannot get to work without a license.  Others drive without a license and get additional tickets and vehicle impoundments. When drivers cannot work, they cannot pay their traffic fines.  When they know they cannot get a new license even if they make monthly payments, they stop paying. All of this has revenue implications for the court system in addition to the impact on California families.

This year I had the opportunity to work with Governor Brown, the Judicial Council, the Chief Justice and knowledgeable advocates to craft our new amnesty program.  The budget trailer bill and the bill I authored, SB 405, together enacted a forward-looking program to allow drivers to get their fines paid and their licenses back at a price that families can afford.  It allows fine reductions and payment programs that take into account the income level of the person fined. This is a terrific first step, but we do need to move on to address the issue of so broadly using our fine system to fund our courts.  I look forward to working with the Commission and other court representatives to make further progress in the year ahead.

Thank you for your consideration of my comments.  I anticipate submitting additional more detailed comments in January. Feel free to contact me or my Chief of Staff, Diane Griffiths, at 916.651.4018, for any additional information.

More on SB 405 HERE:

Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Governance and Finance, represents nearly 1 million San Fernando Valley residents of Senate District 18, which includes part of Burbank and the following communities in Los Angeles: Arleta, Granada Hills, Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, Mission Hills, North Hills, North Hollywood, part of Northridge, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, part of Sun Valley, Sylmar, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Valley Village, Van Nuys, the City of San Fernando and Universal City. See a district map HERE or at http://sd18.senate.ca.gov/district.  After serving in the Assembly from 1996-2002, including two years as Speaker, Hertzberg invested in solar, wind and electric-car projects; and worked for structural changes in government through the Think Long Committee of California. More HERE or at www.senate.ca.gov/hertzberg

 

MEDIA CONTACT: Ray Sotero
Communications Director
Sen. Bob Hertzberg, Senate District 18
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, Calif. 95814
(916) 651-4018 office; 916 834-1128 cell; or ray.sotero@sen.ca.gov

www.sen.ca.gov/hertzberg

 

 

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