California Ends Pay Now, Fight Later Tickets

The unjust system of paying for failure-to-appear tickets before you have a chance to contest them is officially over.

Gov. Jerry Brown this week signed a bill by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg of Van Nuys that says, in most cases, you can contest a "failure to appear" or "failure to pay" ticket without paying the usual bail, fines, penalties and assessments that make this such a racket.

In June, the state Judicial Council dropped the old system of requiring people who are accused of traffic infractions to pay the tickets before they're able to argue their side of things.

So, with the Hertzberg law, you have the ability to see a judge even in cases where you're asked to pay extra for failing to appear or failing to pay.

"Is it reasonable or fair to require the poor to pay a huge fine before getting a hearing?" the lawmaker asks. "I say no, and I’m grateful the governor agreed."

The bill, which takes effect today, also gives you extra time, 20 days vs. 10, to make it right if you failed to appear to pay in a traffic infraction case. The price of such a violation is usually double the rate of the original infraction. The extra time could stave off the extra cost.

The law also ensures "that those current on payment plans to pay off court-ordered debt can have their driver’s licenses reinstated," according to a statement from Hertzberg's office.

Hertzberg argues that traffic tickets have become an onerous element in California's economy.

In a Los Angeles where the median individual income is a low $27,749 and about half of all renters pay half their income to keep a roof over their heads, having a traffic ticket that doubles to nearly $500 or more before they're even able to see a judge can be a life-altering situation.

"Imagine average parents making $12 to $20 per hour and suddenly faced with either feeding their kids or paying these out-of-control fines," Hertzberg said. "What would you do?”

His office cites a recent study that found 42 percent of those who have had driver's licenses suspended lost their jobs, and 45 percent of those people were unable to find a new job.

"From 2006 to 2013, more than 4 million California residents had their driver’s licenses suspended because they didn't pay their fines on time, or they didn't make their payments, or they missed their court date," Hertzberg's office said in a staement.

This system, based on ability to pay, not on justice, creates a cycle of poverty, the lawmaker says. At the same time, California is sitting on $10 billion in unpaid tickets.

"Losing the ability to drive is nothing less than a threat to California’s economic security," Hertzberg said.


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