Motorists will be able to fight tickets before paying fines under plan Legislature sends to governor

Sen. Bob Hertzberg’s bill seeks to restore ‘due process’

September 11, 2015

SACRAMENTO – Lawmakers today endorsed another traffic-fine proposal by Sen. Bob Hertzberg to help working families, strengthen the economy and increase public safety by making it easier for working Californians to live with skyrocketing costs for minor tickets.

The most recent step came today when the Senate approved and sent Gov. Brown Senate Bill 405, which would guarantee Californians the right to challenge many routine traffic tickets without having to first pay the contested fines. 

“From 2006 to 2013, more than 4 million California residents had their driver’s licenses suspended because they didn't pay their fines on time, or they didn't make their payments, or they missed their court date,” Hertzberg said. “This has led to a staggering $10 billion in illusory ‘fines’ because the penalties are so ridiculously high most of the fines are never paid.”

The near-unanimous, lower-house vote followed recent adoption in the state budget of Hertzberg proposals that improved Brown’s traffic amnesty program by allowing low-income residents to pay a reduced amount or make payments. This allows them to get their driver’s licenses back so they can drive to work, keep their jobs and get auto insurance.

Hertzberg cited a couple examples of how a mushrooming cloud of fees, fines and assessments is crushing the average worker’s ability to pay enhanced fines.

For example: A ticket for driving under the influence initially is $390 – but jumps to $1,674 after numerous added-on ‘penalty enhancements.’

Even a citation for failing to make a full halt at a stop sign starts at $35, but then rounds up to $238 after the extra fees.

“Then, if you can’t pay or miss your court date, the fine doubles,” the Van Nuys Democrat said. “Imagine average parents making $12 to $20 per hour and suddenly faced with either feeding their kids or paying these out-of-control fines. What would you do?”

Bolstering Hertzberg’s proposal is a recent study that found when a driver’s license was suspended, 42 percent of drivers lost their jobs. Of those, 45 percent were unable to find a new job. Even accounting for those that kept working, 88 percent of people with suspended licenses reported a reduction in their income.

Another study found that the suspensions disproportionally affect minorities and have pushed poor people deeper into poverty.

In addition to trapping many Californians in a cycle of poverty, records suggest the sheer number of suspended driver’s licenses poses a threat to the public and that people take license suspensions less seriously when it’s for reasons unrelated to safety. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 75 percent of people who have had their licenses suspended just keep driving, often without insurance.

Responding to the need underscored by SB 405, Brown and lawmakers adopted several provisions in the state budget last June. About the same time, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye endorsed Hertzberg’s goals by leading the Judicial Council into adopting an emergency rule. The change means drivers who have not already missed a court appearance don’t have to pay their high fines before going to court, lessening the impact on working families for whom paying fines before a hearing may be a financial hardship.

Until the Council’s change, it was impossible for a driver’s license to be restored until all the unpaid fees, fines and assessments were paid.

Having so many residents without driver’s licenses jeopardizes the economy, makes it harder for workers to get to their jobs and forces employers to find qualified replacements with valid licenses, Hertzberg said.

“Losing the ability to drive is nothing less than a threat to California’s economic security,” Hertzberg said.

Specifically, Hertzberg’s proposal would create the consistency he seeks statewide by:

  • Halting the practice of requiring those with “failed to appear” (FTA) or “failed to pay” (FTP) citations to pay full bail – including fines, penalties, and assessments – before any court hearing.
  • Ensuring that those current on payment plans to pay off court-ordered debt can have their driver’s licenses reinstated.
  • Expanding from 10 days to 20 days the window for someone to contest civil assessment fees imposed by the court, reducing the risk of having a driver’s license suspended.

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; and People Improving Communities through Organizing California.

“The current system is broken,” Hertzberg said. “Is it reasonable or fair to require the poor to pay a huge fine before getting a hearing? I say no. This plan helps those who need help the most: Those who want to work.”

The governor now has 30 days to sign, veto or allow SB 405 to become law without his signature. 

For more, including a Fact Sheet on SB 405, click 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 athttp://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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