Senate Sends Bill Expediting Traffic Amnesty Claims to Governor
SB 881 now focuses on ensuring courts respond promptly to traffic amnesty claims and honor all claims filed by March 31, 2017
SACRAMENTO – The Senate today passed legislation by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, that requires courts to respond to traffic amnesty claims within 90 days of the claims being filed.
SB 881 no longer contains provisions regarding suspended driver’s licenses. Instead, the bill has been amended to require a timely answer to people with outstanding traffic offense fines or fees they can’t afford or haven’t been able to pay who can contact the court requesting a more feasible payment plan. The bill passed on a 39-0 vote and goes to the governor for his consideration.
“The response to the traffic amnesty program has been astounding – more than 100,000 Californians struggling to make ends meet have been able to get fine and fee reductions and move on with their lives,” Hertzberg said. “Unfortunately, many others have been left in the lurch because some courts are so slow to process the claims. SB 881 rectifies this problem.”
SB 881 follows Hertzberg’s landmark measure, SB 405, and Gov. Jerry Brown’s related budget proposal that together established a new traffic amnesty program on Oct. 1, 2015. The program allows people to talk to a judge if they want to before paying fines, restores driver’s licenses to those with a payment plan and reduces exorbitant fee debts by taking a person’s income into account.
In the first six months of that program, more than 132,000 Californians have received amnesty fine and fee reductions and more than 104,000 Californians have had their suspended driver’s licenses reinstated, according to the California Judicial Council.
SB 405 expires on March 31, 2017. SB 881 requires courts to consider any traffic amnesty claim filed with them by that day.
Hertzberg said he will continue to work on the issue in the year ahead with Gov. Jerry Brown and Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye.
“In coordination with the Administration, we are limiting the scope of SB 881, part of our on-going efforts to bring greater fairness to California’s system for imposing fines and license suspensions for vehicle violations,” Hertzberg said. “Last year we embarked on this effort with a successful amnesty program – recognizing that drivers with limited incomes are unfairly affected compared to wealthier Californians by escalating add-ons to fines, which have become a revenue source for a multitude of state programs.”
“My SB 881 this year looked at whether it is appropriate to suspend a driver’s license for a failure to appear in court or pay a fine. We now know that often folks are criminalized for failure to pay fines because they’re poor, not because they’re willfully thumbing their nose at the justice system,” Hertzberg added. “We can’t continue criminalizing poverty, and I intend to make that a key part of our discussions this fall with the Governor and Chief Justice.”
Across the country, rising court fines, fees and penalties for minor offenses have proved especially burdensome to the poor and working poor, who can end up losing their driver’s licenses , jobs and freedom – sometimes going to jail – simply because they could not pay a fine or failed to appear.
According to a report by the U.S. Federal Reserve in May, 46 percent of Americans don’t have $400 to pay for an emergency expense and would have to sell something or borrow money to cover the cost. Traffic tickets often cost hundreds of dollars and can exceed $400, depending on the offense.
The bill is co-sponsored by the Western Center on Law & Poverty and the American Civil Liberties Union of California.
“SB 881 will ensure that people who apply for amnesty will get their licenses restored promptly and that the payment plans will be honored once amnesty ends,” said Michael Herald, a legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “Unfortunately, starting in April, low-income Californians who get their license suspended just because they are poor will again have no way to get their license back quickly. It is imperative that the Governor, the Legislature and the courts come to an agreement early in 2017 to fix this problem and that the relief is retroactive.”
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 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. Learn more at www.senate.ca.gov/hertzberg.
MEDIA CONTACT: Andrew LaMar
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, CA 95814