Capitol Alert

California’s traffic fine amnesty program sunsets. Are other changes on the way?

Police Officer Jeromy Henson does a traffic stop during his shift in Lincoln on Wednesday, September 29, 2010.
Police Officer Jeromy Henson does a traffic stop during his shift in Lincoln on Wednesday, September 29, 2010. RBenton@sacbee.com

Welcome to the AM Alert, your morning rundown on California policy and politics. To receive it regularly, please sign up here.

In debt because of traffic infractions? Is your license suspended because of traffic court fines and fees? California may be able to help.

There’s only a couple days left to apply for a financial break under the state’s traffic court amnesty program, a temporary approach approved by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, when he called the court’s debt system a “hellhole of desperation.” It’s aimed at helping people resolve unpaid fees and fines related to traffic tickets and get their driver’s licenses back.

“With its pointless punitive cycle of fines and late fees, California’s traffic ticket system long has been a source of oppression for millions of motorists, burdening them with mounting debt they can’t pay and depriving them of the driving privileges they need to remain employed,” said a Thursday statement from the nonprofit Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

Because today is César Chávez Day, a state holiday, low-income Californians have until Monday, April 3 to apply. The program has helped more than 200,000 drivers pay their fines and get their licenses reinstated since its launch, and the state has collected more than $35.5 million in revenue, according to a report from the state’s judicial branch. At least 8 million California drivers were eligible for the program at its outset, worth an estimated $6.5 billion, according to the report.

Though the amnesty program sunsets Monday, two bills in the Legislature seek to rein in traffic court debt. State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, has proposed Senate Bill 185 to reduce fines and fees for low-income people, and Assembly Bill 412 from Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, would eliminate some fines.

CESAR CHAVEZ DAY: To celebrate today’s holiday, Secretary of State Alex Padilla is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony at the César E. Chávez National Monument in the city of Keene, southeast of Bakersfield, where Chávez is also buried.

Padilla, himself the son of immigrants who became naturalized citizens, plans to encourage the 25 new citizens to “register to vote and be active participants in America’s democracy,” according to his office.

Chavez is most widely known for activism and organizing for farmworker safety and protections. The monument in Keene once served as the national headquarters for United Farm Workers.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTIONS: Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, is encouraging lawyers to take the environment into account when advising clients. He’s expected to talk about environmental issues like poor air quality, tainted drinking water and lack of open space when delivering an address to the American Bar Association this morning in Hollywood.

SMOKE’EM IF YOU GOT’EM: The voter-approved tax raising the cost of tobacco products is set to go into effect Saturday. The tax on a pack of cigarettes is set to go up $2 per pack.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING: State Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, wants employees at all hotels and motels in California to go through training to be able to recognize the signs of human trafficking. She’s expected to announce the proposed law, Senate Bill 270, alongside San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and others at a press conference in San Diego today.

Some indicators of human trafficking include appearing disconnected, disoriented or confused, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. A sudden change in behavior could also be a warning sign. According to Atkins’ office, there are an estimated 8,100 human trafficking victims each year in San Diego County. Atkins is also announcing Senate Bill 230, which would allow prosecutors to use previous sex trafficking crimes in new sex trafficking trials, and she wants to expand housing and mental health care for victims.

WORTH REPEATING: Donald Trump has switched his attention to (expletive) up our environment and the air we all breathe.” – John Burton, always-colorful chairman of the California Democratic Party, issuing an F-bomb in a written statement.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: Jerry Brown, pitching road repair tax, muses about another presidential run

FAKE NEWS: The left-leaning Alameda County Peace and Freedom Party is hosting a forum at the Starry Plough Pub in Berkeley Saturday on “fake news.” The title of the event is “The Russians are coming?”

FUTURE OF EDUCATION: Marshall Tuck, a candidate for California schools chief, is expected to discuss his campaign this Sunday with members of the Association of California School Administrators at 2 p.m. at the Sheraton Grand, at 1230 J St., Sacramento. The event leads up to the association’s two-day conference on “current issues in education.” Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is among the speakers. It’s scheduled Monday and Tuesday also at the Sacramento Sheraton Grand.

Also this weekend, billionaire environmentalist and former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer keynotes the 75th Annual convention of the California Federation of Teachers, also at the Sheraton. Steyer speaks at 3:15 Saturday. On Sunday, Democratic Assemblymen Kevin McCarty and Phil Ting take home legislator of the year awards from the group.

CELEBRATE: Happy birthday to U.S. Reps. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who turns 65 on Friday, and Tony Cárdenas, D-Panorama City, who turns 54 on Friday. Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, turns 47 on Sunday and Bill Monning, D-Carmel, turns 65 on Sunday.

Angela Hart: 916-326-5528, @ahartreports

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