Press Release

Gov. Brown Signs Legislation to Expedite Traffic Amnesty Claims

SB 881 ensures courts respond promptly to traffic amnesty claims and honor all claims filed by March 31, 2017

September 28, 2016

SACRAMENTO – Gov. Jerry Brown today signed 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 follows Hertzberg’s landmark measure, SB 405, and 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.

But many other Californians have failed to get a response from the courts, even several months after filing their amnesty claims, and remain burdened by debt and unable to get back their suspended driver’s licenses.

“The courts must respond to traffic amnesty claims in a timely fashion, so people who are struggling to make ends meet can move on with their lives,” Hertzberg said. “SB 881 clarifies the responsibilities of courts in responding to the claims and the deadline for filing them.”

SB 405 applies to traffic offenses that occurred prior to 2013, and it expires on March 31, 2017. SB 881 requires courts to consider any traffic amnesty claim filed with them by that day.

Hertzberg said he remains committed to working with Gov. Jerry Brown and Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye in the coming year to bring greater fairness to California’s system for imposing fines and license suspensions for vehicle violations.

“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 said. “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 in court.

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.

“By signing SB 881, Governor Brown has kept his commitment to helping people get their driver's licenses back and get out of their ‘hellhole of desperation,’ ” said Michael Herald, a legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “The next step is to create a permanent remedy so we stop people from ending up in a hellhole in the first place. We look forward to working with the Administration next year in crafting a permanent solution to the driver's license crisis.”

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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
Communications Director
Senator Robert M. Hertzberg
Capitol Building, Room 4038
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 651-4018

 

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