SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California is instituting an amnesty program for residents who can’t afford to pay off spiraling traffic fines and court fees that have led to millions of driver’s licenses being suspended.
The program pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown and adopted as part of his annual budget goes into effect Thursday and runs through March 31, 2017. Ahead of the program, the Democratic governor announced Wednesday signing a bill by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, that allows people to schedule a court appearance even if they haven’t paid fines and traffic penalties.
Under the amnesty plan, drivers with lesser infractions would pay either 50 or 80 percent of what they owe, depending on income. Certain drivers would also be able to apply for installment payments for outstanding tickets. Drunken-driving and reckless-driving violations are not eligible.
Civil assessment fees would be waived for some tickets. Residents who have had their licenses revoked would be able to apply to have them reinstated.
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Only violations due to be paid before Jan. 1, 2013, are eligible for discounts.
Since 2006, the state has suspended 4.8 million driver’s licenses after motorists failed to pay or appear in court, the Department of Motor Vehicles said earlier this year. Of those, only about 83,000 licenses were reinstated.
When he announced the program in May, Brown called the traffic court system a “hellhole of desperation” for the poor.
The push by Brown highlighted concern among lawmakers and court administrators that California’s justice system is profiting off minorities and low-income residents.
Traffic fines have been skyrocketing in the state, and courts have grown reliant on fees as a result of budget cuts during the recession.
Twenty years ago, the fine for running a red light was $103. Today, it costs as much as $490 as the state has established add-on fees to support everything from court construction to emergency medical air transportation. The cost can jump to over $800 once a person fails to pay or misses a traffic court appearance.