DC could ease up on parking, speed camera ticket punishments

WASHINGTON — The DC Council moved toward making noticeable changes to how fines from parking, speed camera and other tickets are collected.

The changes are part of an effort to slow down what councilwoman Mary Cheh described last year as a “cycle of fines and penalties dubbed by some as the ‘criminalization of poverty.’”

Under a bill passed unanimously earlier this week, the city would stop the practice of suspending someone’s driver’s license after racking up unpaid tickets or missed court appearances.

It would also give someone 60 days to pay a parking or speed camera ticket before the associated fine doubled. Right now that happens after 30 days, increases Cheh said were “beyond what some people think are justifiable or defensible” during a council hearing on the bill last month.

The legislation that passed took what the council viewed as the best aspects of several similar pieces of legislation dealing with these different issues. During the legislative process, the mayor’s office testified against the measure, worried it would remove the incentive for people to pay their tickets in “a timely manner.”

The city’s chief financial officer estimated the bill would cost the city more than $30 million in revenue that’s generated by parking, standing, stopping, and automated traffic enforcement fines and penalties.

But the council wasn’t moved, Cheh admitting last month that the penalties “can fall more harshly on low-income residents.”

“Licenses are suspended for nonpayment even in cases where the driver has not accrued the 12 points required to warrant a suspension in the ordinary course,” said Cheh. “Suspension of driving privileges can lead to loss of employment in cases where a person’s vehicle is his or her primary means of getting to and from employment and a loss of employment obviously could be part of a downward spiral that would affect the individual and also make payment of the citation difficult or impossible.”

Since the bill passed, Mayor Murial Bowser hasn’t said if she will sign the bill or not. But the 13-0 margin is clearly well above the two-thirds support needed to override a mayoral veto.

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