KQED: State’s Amnesty Program for Unpaid Traffic Tickets Has Big First Month

Senate Bill 405 by Sen. Bob Hertzberg is cited.

November 6, 2015

By Sukey Lewis

California’s amnesty program for unpaid traffic tickets is just over a month old, but already courts have
been swamped with applications from residents eager to get fines forgiven or reduced.

Los Angeles County, which has the largest court system in the state, processed 18,000 participation forms
in the past 30 days, bringing in $1.3 million in fees and revenue.

But there is still a significant backlog in many courts across the state.

For the next 17 months, drivers can apply to have their unpaid tickets reduced by 50-80 percent, if they’re
eligible In Alameda County, Superior Court Executive Officer Chad Finke said things have been busy. In the first
month, drivers there submitted 5,300 applications for amnesty, of which 945 have been processed. Finke
said about 100 new applications are submitted every day.

“I don’t think we were surprised,” Finke said. “I think we expected there to be a lot of interest and a lot of
applications, but I don’t know that any of us had a real sense of what ‘a lot’ would be.”

Finke asked for the public’s patience as the court works to keep up with demand. Meanwhile some
counties, like San Francisco, turned over the administration of the program to debt collection agencies like
Alliance One.

The amnesty program was launched in response to research showing that the state’s system of traffic fines
and civil assessments has a disproportionate effect on those with low incomes. A report by Bay Area civil
rights groups, titled “Not Just A Ferguson Problem: How Traffic Courts Drive Inequality in California,”
illustrated how an unpaid citation can quickly lead to hundreds of dollars in debt, license suspensions and
even the loss of jobs.

The report found that 4 million people in California are without a license because of unpaid traffic debt.

But for the next 17 months, under the statewide amnesty program, drivers can apply to have their unpaid
tickets reduced by between 50-80 percent — if they are eligible.

Eligibility requirements, per the amnesty program’s Web page:
• “Persons with unpaid tickets whose fines were originally due to be paid date on or before
January 1, 2013, who have not made a payment after September 30, 2015, may be eligible to
have both their debt reduced by 50 or 80 percent depending on income and their driver’s
license reinstated, unless an exclusion discussed below applies.
• “Persons who made a payment after September 30, 2015 on a ticket are not eligible for a
reduction for that ticket, but may be eligible to have their driver’s license reinstated if they
are in good standing on a payment plan with a comprehensive collection program.”
Teresa Ruano, communications specialist for the Judicial Council of California, said courts will process all
applications that are turned in before the deadline of March 31, 2017.

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