Key transportation panel OKs improved court access for motorists fighting excessive tickets
Action marks second time in two weeks policy panels approve Sen. Bob Hertzberg bill
SACRAMENTO – For the second time in as many weeks, a key Assembly policy committee today approved a revised traffic-fine bill by Sen. Bob Hertzberg to improve access to the courts for Californians seeking to contest minor traffic infractions.
“This bill is personal to me because access to the court system is a constitutional right,” Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said about Senate Bill 405 after the Assembly Transportation Committee approved the bill. “When I introduced SB 405, it created a traffic amnesty program for Californians who were tagged with exorbitant fines and penalties for traffic violations.”
Following Hertzberg’s introduction of SB 405, Gov. Brown and the state Judicial Council weighed in on the issue. First, the state Department of Finance drafted a Traffic Amnesty Program adopting various 405 provisions that the governor signed into law with the budget last month. Then California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye asked the Judicial Council to adopt an emergency rule to improve the system and make sure drivers don’t have to pay their high fines before they can get into court.
“These are fantastic first steps, but even the Chief Justice agrees more needs to be done,” Hertzberg said.
The result is an amended SB 405 to guarantee access to the court system for those individuals who have either missed a hearing or a payment and are still being requested to pay their full fine. Those in good standing on payments on court-ordered debt also can have their driver’s licenses reinstated and, at the suggestion of Judicial Council, Hertzberg’s bill would also extend from 10 days to 20 days the time for someone to contest civil assessment fees imposed by the court.
“Our concerns with the current system have centered on both the size of fines and the ability of average Californians to have their day in court when they disagree with a citation,” he said. “We’ve made great progress in addressing this issue. But we still have too many Californians who do not have access to the courts because they were not able to appear, or didn’t understand the implications of not appearing at their scheduled court date.”
On June 30, the Assembly Public Safety Committee approved SB 405 on a bipartisan, 6-0 vote.
Hertzberg said the combined effect of changes in law and SB 405 will improve the ability of workers to reach their jobs, increase payments of fines and also allow defendants their day in court.
The changes are needed, he said, because the current system allows fines to increase dramatically because of added-on fees. This is criminalizing the poor and making it problematic for them to get to work, he said. The result has been a backlog of $10 billion in unpaid fines and more than 4.6 million suspended California driver’s licenses over the past eight years.
“Due to increases in fines and fees, a staggering number of Californians have no access to courts when they are cited for traffic citations,” Hertzberg said. “Exorbitant fees can make it challenging for low-income people to resolve minor traffic infractions since many counties require fines to be paid prior to a hearing on the infraction.”
This has often meant that many drivers didn’t get a chance to see a judge.
“This bill will ensure that court fees do not preclude a defendant from scheduling a court hearing,” he said.
SB 405 is sponsored by the Western Center for Law and Poverty. It is cosponsored by the New Way of Life Reentry Project; the East Bay Community Law Center; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. Supporters include the American Civil Liberties Union; American Friends Service Committee; the California Association of Highway Patrolmen; the California Association of Local Conservation Corps; California Attorneys for Criminal Justice; California Catholic Conference, Inc.; California Immigrant Policy Center; California Partnership; California Public Defenders Association; California Reserve Peace Officers Association; Consumer Attorneys of California; Courage Campaign; the state Department of Insurance; Friends Committee on Legislation of California; National Association of Social Workers; Personal Insurance Federation of California; People Improving Communities through Organizing California; and Rubicon Programs.
SB 405 will now face review by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. No hearing date has been set.
For more, including a Fact Sheet on SB 405, HERE or visit Hertzberg’s Web site at the address below.
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
Sen. Bob Hertzberg, Senate District 18
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, Calif. 95814
(916) 651-4018 office; 916 834-1128 cell; or firstname.lastname@example.org