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If Bill Passes, Traffic Fines Could be Based on Income

SACRAMENTO -- A bill making its way through the state Senate could change the way certain people are forced to pay traffic tickets, pegging how much they would owe to their income, rather than mandating they pay the full amount.

Before 18-year-old Regina Ortiz can start her enlistment in the Air Force, there’s one little annoying thing she has to take care of.

"I had a ticket for a right turn, red light,” said Ortiz.

An unpaid ticket she needs off her record. It may sound minor, but Ortiz says it's $480 that she doesn’t have right now.

"People have stuff they have to pay for. Stuff around the house, other bills, they can't just pay a ticket off right away,” said Ortiz.

"The punishment has to fit the crime,” said State Senator Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat from Van Nuys.

It's people like Ortiz that Hertzberg says he had in mind when he authored Senate Bill 185, which would allow judges to reduce the amount people pay for traffic tickets based on their income.

"If you're not wealthy, and you're below the poverty line, $500 you can't come up with. You're making choices to pay rent or buy food for your kids,” said Hertzberg.

He says for simple traffic stops, people who can’t find the money to pay are losing their driver's licenses and incurring late fees that drive them further into debt.

But critics of the bill say if fines are lower, the state and local municipalities lose out on revenue they collect from tickets.

"Everybody says 'well you're going to lose that money.' You never got it in the first place. It was a joke,” said Hertzberg, who pointed out that in 2015 California was forced to forgive $10 billion in delinquent traffic fines after offenders couldn’t, or wouldn’t pay them. He says the lower the fine, the more likely it is offenders will pay.

The bill only applies to people who make $30,000 a year or less, and only covers vehicle code violations, according to Hertzberg. That means fines for not showing up for court or getting a DUI, for example, are not negotiable and will not be reduced.

"It would help a lot,” said Ortiz of the bill. She says if it were law today, it would serve her well, and help her serve her country.

FOX40 reached out to the state finance office for an estimate on how much revenue they believe the state could lose, but that request went unanswered.

The state legislative analyst's office did get back to FOX40, but no one from the office would comment, nor would anyone from the Judicial Council of California.