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  • Posted May 19, 2017

Traffic violation fines could depend on a person's income


A new bill moving through the California Senate would base the amount of a traffic violation fine on a person's income.


Senate Bill 185 would allow judges to reduce traffic violation fines by up to 80 percent if a person can prove they’re unable to pay the amount -- and only if their income is two-and-a-half times above the federal poverty line or less.

The savings would have provided a huge discount to Sacramento resident Tashuna Harding, who owns about $4,000 in fines associated with speeding tickets.

"I remember I was talking to one of the representatives and I was like, 'I can’t even afford to make the $50 payment this month,' and she was basically telling me, 'I don’t care,'" Harding said.

Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, said it doesn’t make sense to use money as a punishment because a ticket that's a minor annoyance to wealthy people could be potentially detrimental to lower-income earners.

"Is the purpose of government to collect money off the backs of people or is the purpose to enforce the law?" Hertzberg said. "We’re using money to try to enforce the law."

He said SB 185 is an attempt to even the playing field.

A 2015 study found California now has $10 billion in uncollected court-ordered debt and more than 4 million suspended licenses.

People issued traffic citations would need to prove to a judge they need a discount.

"They show them, here’s my pay stub, here’s what I make, here’s what my rent is, here’s how much I can afford," Hertzberg said.

The law wouldn’t apply to driving under the influence or reckless driving cases. People who fail to show in court would have a chance to reschedule within 60 days of their first missed appearance without facing a penalty.

In a letter opposing the bill, California District Attorneys Association Legislative Director Sean Hoffman said, “Some amount of responsibility must come with operating a motor vehicle and promising to appear in court when violating the rules of the road.”

For Harding, the bill could be mean the difference of thousands of dollars.

"I’ll be able to basically pay the whole ticket off if they do that," she said. "So, that will be actually more efficient, people actually will pay their tickets."

SB 185 passed the California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and then the Public Safety Committee.

The Appropriations Committee heard the bill Monday -- but pushed the vote to next week.

The bill is expected to reach the senate floor in early June for a vote.