Forgot to pay that court fine?

Well, that’s probably a bad decision.

But hey, at least you won’t lose your driver’s license.

The Navajo County this week changed its codes to reflect passage of a new state law intended to keep a failure to pay a fine or show up in court from unraveling your life.

SB1551 will restore the driving privileges of the 31,000 people whose licenses have been suspended simply for failure to pay a court fine.

Moreover, the law gives judges the authority to lower fines for traffic violations if people can show they can’t afford to pay. Penalties for drunk driving are exempt, however.

“People need to drive to places like medical appointments, school and work to earn a living,” said Gov. Doug Ducey in a signing statement. “There’s no sense in getting in the way of that when they can’t afford the fine, especially when there are other steps courts can take to collect fees.”

Rep. Paul Boyer sponsored the measure and said, “working families and Arizonans who are struggling financially need support — not barriers.”

Studies have shown that escalating traffic fines can have a huge impact on people, especially the working poor struggling to make ends meet.

One California study concluded four million state residents have suspended drivers licenses, mostly because they can’t afford the court fees and fines. “A litany of practices and policies turn a citation offense into a poverty sentence.”

The already high fines are often increased 400% when people can’t afford to pay. The fines and licenses suspensions can cost people their jobs, destroy credit ratings and force them deeper into poverty starting “Long cycles of poverty that are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome,” concluded the study.

Navajo County has one of the highest poverty rates in the state, roughly 28% compared to the statewide rate of 14%, according to the US Census Bureau. That includes many reservation families. The poverty rate is about $13,000 for a single person or $22,000 for a family of three.

That means the problem with traffic fines and license suspensions probably hits Navajo County much harder than most of the rest of the state.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

(1) comment

Justsayin141

This is progress and great news!!! What makes it even better is the fact that the bill was sponsored by a Republican. See you guys can care about the little guy too. Maybe this is why the addiction rate is super high here. Maybe it's because some people are harassed so much, they give up to escape reality in this two class society. Maybe people should think about trying kindness for a change. Who can keep a job long enough to pay a fine if they keep putting you in jail for not paying. This is a much needed improvement. Step one of 10,000.

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