Hertzberg proposes plan to reduce traffic penalties, restore suspended licenses

Robert_Hertzberg

Drivers who’ve had their licenses suspended could soon get a reprieve.

State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, has introduced legislation that would reduce outstanding penalties and fines for drivers with a suspended license. In addition to reducing penalties, Senate Bill 405 would provide a method for drivers with a suspended license from a nonviolent offense to regain their driving privileges.

Hertzberg says that legislation is needed to help low-income residents who are caught in a Catch-22: They can’t pay their fines because they are unable to find or keep a job without a driver’s license.

“We are criminalizing the poor and dramatically impacting their lives with punishments that far exceed their crimes by slamming them with excessive fines,” Hertzberg said in a recent press release. “Then we take away their ability to get to work.”

Exponential growth of traffic fines

In recent years, state and local governments have added supplemental charges and raised fines for traffic offenses.

“What used to be a $100 violation now costs nearly $500, and jumps to over $800 if a person misses the initial deadline to pay,” the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which is co-sponsoring Hertzberg’s legislation, noted in a recent report. “As the fees have gone up, and with the economic crisis, fewer people can afford to pay their tickets.”

Those higher fees have corresponded with an increase in the number of drivers with suspended licenses due to non-payment of penalties. The civil rights group estimates that 4.2 million Californians have had their licenses revoked because of non-payment of fines since 2006.

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.24.35 PMEven responsible drivers, who coordinate a payment plan with the court, are unable to regain their license “until every cent of a fee is paid,” according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

Hertzberg’s office argues that some fines are compounded by simple mistakes, such as address changes. In one case, “a $25 ticket for failing to notify the DMV of an address change ended up owning $2,900 to the state,” according to CBS Los Angeles.

Governor’s Traffic Amnesty program

Hertzberg’s proposal would work in conjunction with Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for a Traffic Amnesty program in the 2015-16 state budget. Currently, the state has $10 billion in uncollected court-ordered debts.

Advocates for poor and working class Californians say that an amnesty program is helpful, but only part of the solution. After all, it’s usually necessary to have a license in order to hold a job. One study in New Jersey found that 42 percent of drivers lost their jobs once their license was suspended.

“Suspended licenses can trap working poor in an impossible situation: unable to reinstate their licenses without gainful employment and unable to access employment without a license, keeping people in cycles of poverty that are difficult to overcome,” a State Senate committee analysis explains of the bill. “Employers are affected by having to internalize the cost to replace workers and face the challenge of finding qualified workers with valid driver licenses.”

Under SB 405, drivers with licenses suspended before January 1, 2013, would be allowed to participate in the governor’s amnesty program. Drivers would also see their fines lowered based on a sliding scale based on income levels. The new fees would be based as follows:

  • 20 percent of fine or bail for people with an income that is less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level
  • 50 percent of fine or bail for people with an income that is between 150 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level
  • 80 percent of fine or bail for people with an income that is greater than 200 percent of the federal poverty level

Broad base of support

The measure has a broad base of support, including the the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, Drug Policy Alliance, Personal Insurance Federation of California and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

“The state needs to tread cautiously in this field lest it remove any incentive for offenders to pay their fine, or, even worse, follow traffic laws in the first place,  the Sacramento Bee wrote in its editorial supporting the bill. “But the kind of measured response Hertzberg is proposing in Senate Bill 405 seems to strike the right balance between expecting personal responsibility while still exercising some compassion and common sense. If this results in more drivers having a license and more fines being paid to local governments, the law would be a victory for motorists and taxpayers alike.”

Last week, the Senate Public Safety Committee agreed, passing SB 405 on to the Committee on Appropriations.

“This is a limited amnesty,” State Senator Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said in support of the bill during the hearing. “Why do we have to be such money-grubbing legislators?”

Anderson urged Hertzberg to further and focus on more people because “many of these folks are just one step out of poverty.”

Graphic: A Journey through Traffic Court

Not-Just-a-Ferguson-Problem-Drivers-License-Infographic-712x1024

6 comments

Write a comment
  1. Reddwarf
    Reddwarf 6 May, 2015, 14:41

    Why not just throw the CVC out & let everybody do what they want.

    It’s easy to stick to the rules. Be responsible for your actions.

    Hertzberg is an idiot for sponsoring such a joke!

    Reply this comment
  2. Dork
    Dork 6 May, 2015, 15:36

    It’s easy to stick to the rules.

    Obviously you haven’t thought this through, consider this:
    The US Constitution only allows for 2 types of LAW, Criminal and Civil, All persons are guaranteed the right to a Public Trial by Jury in Criminal Cases and the same guarantee for Civil cases where the value of controversy exceeds $20. So tell me exactly where the STATE is “Sticking to the Rules” with regards to the fiction known as “Statutory Law” and while you are at it maybe you could find an official copy of “Rules and Procedures for Statutory Law”

    When is the last time a person accused of an infraction of statutory law received a trial by jury??

    An Infraction of Statutory law is by definition a Criminal Act., They are both “Violations Of LAW”

    Reply this comment
  3. desmond
    desmond 6 May, 2015, 18:29

    One of four to five drivers are unlicensed or the cars are unregistered. Illegals? Until the state enforces the law there, wouldn’t t be great if no one renewed their licences or tags for a few months. Hey Brown,,Harris, De Leon…..this would show them for the fascists they are…coming after the givers to give to the takers…eat this( shaking it).

    Reply this comment
  4. Ted
    Ted 8 May, 2015, 09:11

    People drive worse each year it seems—- tickets are like taxes– ya have to pay if you want good roads, public safety help when you need it, and maybe, better drivers.

    WHY do repubs whine about Everything? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Reply this comment
  5. Mimi
    Mimi 8 September, 2015, 18:50

    Oddly, CA seems to have found a way to ignore the so called amnesty. It has stepped up sending outstanding tickets to “FTB collections” via wage garnishment . Seems that once they’ve recovered any amount the amnesty is voided.

    Reply this comment
  6. franco
    franco 8 February, 2016, 19:05

    Can my sister get her suspended license back. She’s Making pmts. On the tickets. And amnesty just informed her they will reduce her payments by 80$?

    Reply this comment

Write a Comment

Your e-mail address will not be published.
Required fields are marked*



John Hrabe

John Hrabe

John Hrabe spends his time traveling the world as a freelance journalist. When he isn’t on an international flight, John writes about California politics for CalWatchdog.com and CalNewsroom.com.

Related Articles

Old is new as California sees more European immigrants

  The face of immigration in California has become more complex than the political debate would suggest, with Roma, or gypsies,

Huge CA Powerball sales sharpen lottery debate

Californians joined in the country’s fever over an extraordinary Powerball prize, leading the nation in ticket sales — but not without

CA lawmakers square off against drones

In an all-too-real conflict between man and machine, a string of high-profile clashes between drones and public servants has helped