Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
dwalters@sacbee.com
June 25, 2015

  • Budget trailer bill gives drivers a break
  • Amnesty, however, doesn’t go far enough
  • Overhaul of traffic fines should be next

Capitol politicians are patting themselves on the back for opening an escape hatch for millions of motorists whose licenses have been suspended for failure to pay past-due tickets.

A budget “trailer bill” gives drivers whose licenses were suspended due to nonpayment in 2012 or earlier a window to settle up with discounts – 50 percent for everyone, 80 percent for those on welfare or with low incomes – and easy payment plans.

That’s great, as far as it goes. Without an amnesty, it would be virtually impossible for authorities to collect much of the $10 billion in overdue fines, especially from the poor.

The new program encompasses much of what Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, had proposed. He may seek to expand the amnesty further to include those with suspended licenses since 2012.

That would make sense as well, but what really would make sense is completely overhauling a system that’s become a monstrosity.

Califiornia’s basic fines (technically, “bails”) for hundreds of infractions are, for the most part, not excessive. But over the years, legislators and governors have piled surcharges on those fines, in many cases making them four or five times as large.

It’s been a lazy way to finance some programs and projects – such as courthouse construction – without tapping into the state’s general revenue, thus preserving money for the politicians’ sexier priorities.

Jerry Brown, in his second incarnation as governor, has become a critic of this wretched excess, vetoing higher traffic fines he considers excessive.

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