California's state legislature is considering a bill that would change how the state assess traffic fines. Instead of a flat rate, the state would charge people depending on how much money they made. The less you make, the less you pay.
State Senator Robert M. Hertzberg believes California's traffic fines are too high, and the burden is unduly put on low-income families. Many fines, don't even get paid.
California is owed almost $10 billion in unpaid traffic fines, something the state tried to chip away at with an amnesty program that would allow violators pay a fraction of what they owe.
Hertzberg's bill would also make it illegal for a person's license be suspended because of nonpayment of a fine.
California traffic fines are a bit weird how they charge. Running a stop sign for example is a $35 ticket, however, once court costs are added in, it can cost someone $238 according to the report 'Paying More for Being Poor' from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.
California's traffic fines are some of the highest in the nation.
The report goes on to make the case that the traffic fine system discriminates against poorer individuals thanks to racial profiling by police officers.
Because of over-policing in communities of color and racial profiling, African-American and Hispanic individuals are more likely to receive traffic tickets than white and Asian individuals and are far more likely to be cited for driving without a license without also being cited for an observable offense. But new Bay Area data also reveals that African-Americans are four to sixteen times more likely to be booked into county jail on a charge related to inability to pay a citation.
Hertzberg's bill takes the report's recommendation to establish some kind of process that would allow courts to assess fines and fees based on a person's ability to pay. Finland has a similar system in place, which in one famous story, led to a Nokia executive being fined around $103,000 for going 15 miles over the speed limit on his motorcycle.
However, Hertzberg's proposal would not work the same way as the Scandinavian model. The state senator's bill places the burden on the courts to determine whether the violator is "indigent."