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California Bill Would Tie Traffic Fines To Violator's Income

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — If you've ever gotten a traffic violation, you know it all too well that California's traffic fines are among the highest in the nation.

But a state Senator wants to lower fines for people who don't make much money while making it illegal for the state to suspend your driver's license if you can't afford to pay.

Devon Olson is in the passenger's seat, while mom drives her around town.

"I'm Uber mom these days," mom said.

Devon lost her license because of $3,600 in unpaid traffic tickets. The biggest penalty is a red light camera violation. But she says she wasn't home to receive the tickets in the mail. Then the late fees kept building and she had to give up the car.

"I had a $785 fine to get my license back and that's the first step," she said.

Devon applied for an amnesty program for low-income drivers that would have reduced those fines. But the program ended last month. And Devon, like millions of California drivers, is left in deep ticket debt for those tickets.

"Our objective here is justice," said state Sen. Bob Hertzberg.

He's is driven to change the state's traffic citation system for low-income drivers.

"We're not telling people you shouldn't pay a price when you violate the law—you should pay a price when you violate the law. The price just can't be 1,000 times your annual salary," said Hertzberg.

Under his proposed law, people who make less money would pay less for traffic tickets. And their driver's licenses would no longer be suspended if they can't afford to pay.

So will people who make more, pay more? The simple answer is no, the fines will stay the same. But for someone who's unemployed or on welfare, a court determines the fine, based on income level.

"I think it's unfair. what's good for one is good for all," said Patti Smith.

Patti Smith is retired, and she's not buying it.

"Everyone should be paying the same way," she said.

How about the potential revenue the state collects from traffic violations each year?

The Judicial Council of California says under this proposal, the state will lose out on billions of dollars from the traffic tickets, which pay for government programs.

But a UCLA professor who studied the issue is testifying that the opposite is true. According to Beth Colgan's research, the state may be able to collect more* money when people are charged reasonable rates.

"A properly designed system could result in greater revenues. That's because not only did the percentage of payments go up but the dollars collected went up," said Colgan of the UCLA School of Law.

For Devon... it's all about saving up. She's now living with grandma, and relying on mom.

"But nobody can come up with thousands of dollars up front especially if you're low income," said mom.

The senate is expected to vote on the bill next month.

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