| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES California legislators have raised
fines for traffic infractions to some of the highest in the
United States to generate revenue, and the poor are bearing an
unfair burden, losing cars and jobs because they cannot pay
them, civil rights activists said on Friday.
The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San
Francisco Bay Area said in a new report that the $490 fine for a
red light ticket in California was three times the national
average. The cost was even higher if motorists wanted to attend
traffic school in lieu of a conviction or were late paying.
"Our state is raising money off the backs of California
families to balance the budget for special projects, and it's
using traffic tickets as a revenue generator instead of to
protect safety, instead of to do justice, said Elisa
Della-Piana, the group's legal director.
The report, released on Thursday, comes as lawmakers in
some states and local jurisdictions have begun to recognize the
implications of high traffic fines on the poor and unemployed,
especially in minority communities.
Failure to pay a fine on time can lead to a motorist losing
his driver license and car, suffer further financial problems
and even wind up in jail.
"Studies show 78 percent of Californians drive to work and a
very high percentage have to have a license to have a job,"
Della-Piana said. "If you can't afford to pay $500 this month
for a traffic ticket, that's also saying to many families, you
lose your household income."
California lawmakers have begun to take baby steps to
address the problem, Della-Piana said, with Governor Jerry Brown
lately vetoing new attempts by state legislators to raise fines
or tack on new fees to traffic tickets as they grapple with deep
budget deficits brought on in part by mushrooming public
employee pension obligations.
Brown, a Democrat, has also said in his latest budget
proposal that the state should not be suspending driver licenses
for failure to pay a ticket.
State Senator Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat from Los Angeles,
has introduced legislation that would reduce fines based on a
motorist's ability to pay.
Della-Piana said California should next stop arresting
motorists who cannot afford to pay their tickets. Black people
are statistically more likely to be jailed for such offenses,
according to the report.