Daily 49er

State senator attempts to soften license suspensions

SB-405 would reinstate licenses to suspended drivers with non-safety violations.

Nicca Panggat, News Editor

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Suspended California drivers struggling to pay for parking tickets may find some debt-related relief, along with possible license reinstatement, according to proposed Senate Bill 405.

SB-405, introduced by Senator Bob Hertzberg and passed as amended by the committee, cites that millions of drivers suspended for non-safety violations would have their licenses and driving privileges restored. This includes lesser violations like expired tags and unpaid parking tickets.

“Driving in California is often described as a privilege, but for millions of Californians it is an economic necessity,” the bill states. “Without the ability to drive, millions of families cannot afford to pay the cost of housing, pay utilities, put food on the table, afford clothing for their children, or be able to save for retirement. In short, driving is a fundamental need of virtually every person in the state.”

The bill also states that drivers who owe outstanding fines would be required to pay only a specified percentage of the total amount. The new total would be determined for each driver on a sliding scale.

“The justice system is heavily reliant on fees, penalties and assessments, levied primarily on the poor – the very people who can least afford it,” Hertzberg said in an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee.

According to the statistics and data portal company Statista, there are over 24 million drivers in California alone. Another study by a coalition of civil rights groups reports that over four million of them have lost their licenses over the last eight years.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 75 percent of suspended drivers in the United States continue to drive during the period of their license revocation.

“If you can’t drive, you can’t work and you can’t pay [the fines],” Hertzberg said. “That’s the key to SB-405, and the goal is to give people their lives and livelihoods back.”

The fines in California as well as cities across the country are a primary source of government funding up to several billion dollars, Hertzberg said.

Under existing state law, licenses are not reinstated to drivers until the entirety of their fines and the fees attached to them are paid off, even up to several thousand dollars, and certain counties make it difficult to even obtain a hearing before a judge.

“Before you know it, a $25 ticket for failing to notify the DMV of an address change has ballooned to $2,900 due to absurd math that multiplies fees and penalties,” Hertzberg said. “Not unlike the debt owed to a loan shark.”

SB-405 is designed to work hand-in-hand with Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed Traffic Amnesty program. His proposal aims to handle nearly $10 billion in uncollected debt by allowing drivers with minor violations to pay half of what they owe and slashing administrative fees from $300 to $50.

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