SACRAMENTO — Californians will no longer face losing their driver’s licenses because of unpaid traffic fines starting next month.
Gov. Jerry Brown said the punishment doesn’t help the state collect unpaid fines and can send low-income people into a cycle of job losses and more poverty.
The policy will help ensure people’s lives are not derailed by traffic tickets, said Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Van Nuys Democrat who has championed the issue in the Legislature.
Brown, a Democrat, approved the provision as part of a series of bills he signed Tuesday to enact the state budget. It will prevent courts from suspending someone’s driver’s license simply because of unpaid fines.
Brown called for ending the practice in his January budget proposal, saying “there does not appear to be a strong connection” between the license suspensions and collecting.
“Often, the primary consequence of a driver’s license suspension is the inability to legally drive to work or take one’s children to school,” the Democratic governor wrote.
In March, about 488,000 people had suspended driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic tickets or missing court appearances, according to data from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
The new law will not apply retroactively to people whose licenses are already suspended for failing to pay fines, said DMV spokesman Artemio Armenta.
Opponents of the policy have argued driver’s license suspension is a useful tool to compel people to pay traffic fines.
Supporters say losing the ability to drive to work can prevent people from earning money and actually make low-income drivers less likely to pay fines.
Under the bill Brown signed, courts will still be able to suspend licenses for other infractions like failing to appear in court.
Hertzberg said the new policy is a good first step in changing state law so it doesn’t punish people for being poor.
He has a related bill advancing through the Legislature that would allow low-income people who cannot afford their traffic tickets to ask a judge to lower fines or substitute them with community service.
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