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Drivers License Bill Passes State Assembly Panel
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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

June 21, 2016 -- State legislation to stop the automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for people with minor traffic offenses who fail to appear in court or to pay initial fines that snowball into huge financial burdens passed a key committee Monday.

The California Assembly Transportation Committee voted 9-to-4 to pass SB 881, which comes in the wake of a special temporary amnesty program started in October of 2015 by California.

The bill, sponsored by State Senator Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, allows those with minor driving offenses to to talk with a judge about their fines, restores driver’s licenses to those with a payment plan and adjusts escalating fees after taking low incomes into account.

In the first three months of the amnesty program, more than 58,000 Californians have received fine and fee reductions and more than 40,000 have requested reinstatement of their driver’s licenses, a study by the California Judicial Council found.

SB 881 is co-sponsored by the Western Center on Law and Poverty and the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

“This is good news for hundreds of thousands of Californians who have had their family and work lives disrupted due to a suspended license simply because they were too poor,” Michael Herald, a legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said of SB 881’s progress in Sacramento.

About 612,000 Californians now have a suspended driver’s license due to failure to appear or failure to pay on traffic tickets, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The poor and those living on low incomes have been especially hard hit by court fines, fees and penalties for minor offenses that rapidly rise if not quickly addressed -- sometimes leading to jail and losing jobs.

Hertzberg said a U.S. Federal Reserve report found last month that nearly half of American adults don’t have $400 to pay for an emergency expense like fees for minor driving offenses and would have to sell something or borrow money to cover the cost.

The legislation does not apply to offenses involving reckless driving or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

SB 881 has already passed the Senate and goes next to the Assembly Public Safety Committee for consideration later this summer, said spokesman Andrew LaMar.

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