Bill to Stop Automatic DL Suspensions Passes Committee
The bill follows on Hertzberg’s work to restore fairness to California’s criminal justice system and roll back overly harsh penalties
SACRAMENTO – The Senate Transportation and Housing Committee today passed legislation by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, to prevent the automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for people who are unable to pay fines or fees for minor traffic tickets and require courts to determine violators’ ability to pay before setting fine amounts.
SB 185 states that your economic status shouldn’t determine your access to justice and ability to make amends. In addition, any previously suspended licenses must be reinstated for violators who make a good faith effort to begin payment plans.
The committee passed the bill on a 12-1 vote. SB 185 goes next to the Senate Public Safety Committee for consideration.
“We’ve seen the horrible consequences of overburdening struggling Californians with big fines and fees for minor traffic offenses,” Hertzberg said. “Many go deep into debt, lose their licenses and end up out of work. It’s a harsh penalty that doesn’t fit the original offense, and it’s not fair or smart. This legislation restores common sense to how we deal with traffic offenses.”
Gov. Jerry Brown endorsed the idea in his proposed spending plan for the 2017-18 fiscal year. In the budget plan, which he delivered to the Legislature on Jan. 10, he wrote: “There does not appear to be a strong connection between suspending someone’s drivers license and collecting their fine or penalty. Often, the primary consequence of a drivers license suspension is the inability to legally drive to work or take one’s children to school.”
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 traffic fine or failed to appear for a court hearing. 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 issued last year 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.
“We have to quit punishing people simply for being poor, and unfortunately, that’s what our justice system often does with high fines and fees for minor traffic offenses,” Hertzberg said. “The Traffic Amnesty Program, which reduced debt for more than 200,000 Californians, showed us what a huge problem this is.”
The bill is sponsored by a coalition of social justice groups that includes the Western Center on Law and Poverty, American Civil Liberties Union of California and East Bay Community Law Center.
The measure is part of Hertzberg’s ongoing efforts to restore common sense to California’s criminal justice system and roll back unfair and overly harsh penalties that hammer those of modest means.
In December, Bob Hertzberg introduced SB 10, The California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017, which aims to replace a pretrial process that often forces people with limited income to remain in jail until a court can determine their innocence or guilt but allows the wealthy to go free.
Like a driver’s license suspension, a few days in jail can cost many people their jobs and send their lives into a downward spiral before a court has even determined whether they are innocent or guilty of charges filed against them.
In 2015, Hertzberg authored SB 405, which, along with Brown’s related budget proposal, established a new traffic amnesty program for fees and fines incurred prior to 2013. The traffic amnesty program allowed people to talk to a judge if they wanted to before paying fines, restored driver’s licenses to those with a payment plan and reduced exorbitant fee debts by taking a person’s income into account in setting the fine amount.
In the first 15 months of that program, more than 205,000 Californians received amnesty fine and fee reductions and more than 192,000 had their suspended driver’s licenses reinstated, according to the California Judicial Council. Monday was the last day to apply for amnesty through the program.
Hertzberg went on in 2016 to author SB 881, which requires courts to respond to traffic amnesty claims within 90 days of the claims being filed, and SB 882, which prohibits youths from being charged with a criminal violation for transit fare evasion and instead treats the offense through an administrative process.
Bob Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water, 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