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There Could Soon Be an Easier Way to Pay Off Your Parking Tickets

A simple parking ticket can lead to a hold on your vehicle registration and threats to intercept California tax refunds. The $73 citations, which can spiral, if unpaid, to $175 or more, are the bane of many Angelenos' existence. They brought nearly $150 million to municipal coffers last year and are acknowledged to be a necessary stream of revenue for City Hall's budget. In essence, they're just another way to tax people without saying so.

This week a state lawmaker proposed mandatory parking-ticket payment plans for cities including Los Angeles. And yesterday, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation announced its own limited payment program.

The bill, by Assemblyman Tom Lackey of Palmdale, would "require local governments to create a monthly payment plan by which low-income drivers will be able to realistically pay their parking fines," according to a fact sheet from the Republican's office.

The language and exact details of the bill were not immediately available but, according to Lackey's office, the intent is to ensure that parking tickets don't lead to a downward economic spiral. "A parking ticket should not ruin a person's life, but in California it can," Lackey told reporters this week.

Longtime parking-ticket critic Jay Beeber agreed, saying that a registration hold as a result of unpaid parking citations can lead to a moving violation for driving an unregistered vehicle. Drivers could then face higher fines and even arrest.

The bill is proposing a 12-month payment plan, lower fines based on income, and the ability for drivers to register their vehicles even if they owe cash on parking citations — so long as they've signed up for a payment plan. According to Lackey's office, there are 105,000 vehicles with registration holds in California as a result of unpaid tickets.

The citations put many drivers "in the unfair position of deciding between illegally driving an unregistered vehicle or not driving at all," the legislative fact sheet argues. "This vicious cycle limits drivers’ access to daily necessities such as employment and school."

Lackey says this also puts the Department of Motor Vehicles in the position of collecting cash for cities, which use it to finance basic needs. That's not the original intention of citations, which are seen as a corrective measure to ensure neighborhoods and business districts aren't corralled by parked cars.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation does offer an option for paying parking tickets. This month it rolled out a new "installment payment plan," which allows motorists with proof that they're in the state-defined "very low income" bracket to request a three-month payment plan. A spokesman for the department said it was inspired by 2015 legislation that allows — but does not require — cities to establish such programs.

"It's positive to see Los Angeles taking steps to give low-income drivers a way to pay their parking tickets responsibly," Lackey said via email. "My bill would make sure that all cities offer these types of options and would give a uniform standard across the state.

"While Los Angeles’ plan gives drivers three months to pay off their debts, I think 12 months is more appropriate," he continued. "Families living paycheck to paycheck shouldn’t have to choose between paying rent or paying their parking ticket."

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