Assembly Committee Passes Bill Preventing Driver’s License Suspensions for Minor Offenses
SB 881 follows 2015 legislation that helped establish a traffic amnesty program
SACRAMENTO – The Assembly Public Safety Committee today passed legislation by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, that stops the automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for people who fail to pay fines for minor traffic offenses.
SB 881 ends an overly harsh punishment that does not fit the offense and sends many people of modest means into a downward spiral that can result in losing a job or even ending up in jail. Presently, 612,000 Californians have a suspended driver’s license due to failure to appear or failure to pay on traffic tickets, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“It is a sad fact that we have essentially created the modern equivalent of debtors’ prison by taking away people’s driver’s licenses or throwing them in jail simply because they are too poor to pay a fine,” Hertzberg said. “We must restore common sense to our justice system.”
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. A New Jersey study found that 42 percent of people whose driver’s licenses were suspended lost their jobs as a result of the suspension.
According to a report last month by the U.S. Federal Reserve, 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.
In California, driver’s license suspensions due to failure to appear or pay have hit minorities and the poor at a disproportionately higher rate, according to a report issued in April by a coalition of civil rights groups. In Los Angeles County, for instance, African Americans account for 9 percent of the population but made up 32 percent of those arrested for driving with a suspended license over a two-year period ending September 2015.
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 three months of that program, more than 58,000 Californians received amnesty fine and fee reductions and more than 40,000 requested reinstatement of their driver’s licenses, according to the California Judicial Council.
The bill is co-sponsored by the Western Center on Law & Poverty and the American Civil Liberties Union of California.
“This is good news for hundreds of thousands of Californians who have had their family and work lives disrupted due to a suspended license simply because they were too poor,” said Michael Herald, a legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law & Poverty.
The legislation does not apply to offenses involving reckless driving or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
SB 881 passed the Assembly Transportation Committee last week, and it has already passed the Senate. The bill goes next to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for consideration.
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