State bill plans to reform traffic fine collection system for low-income drivers

Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law agency-request legislation from Attorney General Bob Ferguson for a plan to tackle challenges posed by the significant number of driver’s license suspensions in Washington.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Monday, April 4, 2016 2:10pm
  • News

Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law agency-request legislation from Attorney General Bob Ferguson for a plan to tackle challenges posed by the significant number of driver’s license suspensions in Washington.

Senate Bill 6360, sponsored by Sen. Steve O’Ban (R-University Place), will bring together law enforcement, the courts, and other stakeholders to address the challenges faced by low-income drivers who lose their licenses solely because they are unable to pay traffic fines, according to a Attorney General’s Office media release. Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) sponsored the companion bill, House Bill 2659.

“It’s wrong for an unequal burden to fall on low-income drivers,” Ferguson said in the release about the bill signed April 2 by Inslee. “Washingtonians deserve a thoughtful solution that enhances public safety and promotes opportunity for all Washingtonians. This bill puts us on the right path.”

“These aren't hit-and-run drivers we're talking about,” said Rep. Jinkins. “These are people who, like many of us, committed a minor traffic infraction, but didn't have the resources to pay their ticket. Instead of taking their licenses, and their ability to keep their jobs and take care of their families, let's work toward a solution that gives them a path to pay their debt.”

“Drivers with suspended licenses find themselves stuck in a cycle of debt. Very often, no license means no job,” said Michael Althauser, staff attorney with the Basic Human Needs Project at Columbia Legal Services. “The plan put forth by this legislation meets a pressing need by removing barriers to employment, thereby creating opportunity to establish self-responsibility. Once implemented, this stands to provide relief to thousands of Washingtonians.”

The Department of Licensing reports more than 380,000 Washingtonians have suspended or revoked driver’s licenses — over 5 percent of the state’s population. A significant number of suspensions are solely the result of a failure to pay traffic fines.

Drivers who can afford to pay a traffic fine can continue to drive legally without further problem. But for otherwise law-abiding residents who can’t afford to pay a ticket, they may not be able to secure a payment plan that they can reasonably afford, and nonpayment leads to license suspension and a cycle of escalating penalties and fees.

Without driving privileges, getting to work becomes a challenge for a commuting farm worker in Yakima or a Seattle parent balancing child care and a job. If a suspended license leads to unemployment, it can prevent payment of the very fines that contributed to the problem.

Under the bill, the Attorney General’s Office will lead a group of stakeholders to develop a proposed program that will allow people to consolidate their traffic obligations across jurisdictions into a realistic, unified payment plan. A final report and plan is due to the Legislature no later than Dec. 1, 2017.

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