California's high traffic fines unfairly
punish the poor: activists
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[May 06, 2017]
By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California
legislators have raised fines for traffic infractions to some of the
highest in the United States to generate revenue, and the poor are
bearing an unfair burden, losing cars and jobs because they cannot pay
them, civil rights activists said on Friday.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area
said in a new report that the $490 fine for a red light ticket in
California was three times the national average. The cost was even
higher if motorists wanted to attend traffic school in lieu of a
conviction or were late paying.
"Our state is raising money off the backs of California families to
balance the budget for special projects, and it's using traffic tickets
as a revenue generator instead of to protect safety, instead of to do
justice, said Elisa Della-Piana, the group's legal director.
The report, released on Thursday, comes as lawmakers in some states and
local jurisdictions have begun to recognize the implications of high
traffic fines on the poor and unemployed, especially in minority
Failure to pay a fine on time can lead to a motorist losing his driver
license and car, suffer further financial problems and even wind up in
"Studies show 78 percent of Californians drive to work and a very high
percentage have to have a license to have a job," Della-Piana said. "If
you can't afford to pay $500 this month for a traffic ticket, that's
also saying to many families, you lose your household income."
California lawmakers have begun to take baby steps to address the
problem, Della-Piana said, with Governor Jerry Brown lately vetoing new
attempts by state legislators to raise fines or tack on new fees to
traffic tickets as they grapple with deep budget deficits brought on in
part by mushrooming public employee pension obligations.
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A diesel Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL is taken away by a tow truck for
having an expired registration, in Santa Monica, California, U.S. on
September 21, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
Brown, a Democrat, has also said in his latest budget proposal that
the state should not be suspending driver licenses for failure to
pay a ticket.
State Senator Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat from Los Angeles, has
introduced legislation that would reduce fines based on a motorist's
ability to pay.
Della-Piana said California should next stop arresting motorists who
cannot afford to pay their tickets. Black people are statistically
more likely to be jailed for such offenses, according to the report.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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