Facebook Twitter

Vroom — traffic fines could go up by $32

Senate OKs letting justice courts tack on surcharge

SHARE Vroom — traffic fines could go up by $32

A word of warning to lead-footed drivers: Your speeding tickets are about to get a whole lot more expensive: at least $32 per ticket more expensive.

Same goes for tickets for rolling through a stop sign, failing to signal for a lane change, too slow in the fast lane and virtually every other traffic citation.

"I recognize it is a hefty jump," said Sen. David Gladwell, R-Ogden and sponsor of SB222, which places a $32 surcharge on all fines imposed by justice courts. "But there is an equity issue here."

The equity issue in this case is that district courts, which typically handle a wide array of misdemeanors and felonies, currently charge a $32 surcharge on their cases. But justice courts, which handle traffic violations and some misdemeanors, have not had that authority.

The Senate gave its approval Monday to the surcharges, which would raise about $9 million a year, with $3.6 million earmarked to beef up security at justice and juvenile courts, and $4.5 million to reimburse counties for the costs of inmates sentenced to county jail for violating city ordinances.

The remaining $900,000 goes for technology to link justice courts to the state court administrators office so the state can keep track of justice courts cases, in particular drunken driving cases that are falling through the cracks.

Senate Minority Whip Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, voted for the bill, but he has a lot of heartburn over the stiffness of the surcharge on minor traffic offenses. "I think it's heavy, real heavy," he said.

Dmitrich said justice courts need financial support, and this is one way to do it. But he finds it ironic that he proposed last year to impose a $20 surcharge on traffic fines to help pay for public safety retirement. "I was eaten alive" by the Republicans, he said.

This year, it is Republicans who are proposing the surcharge, one that is more than 50 percent higher than that proposed by Democrats last year.

Gladwell said funding justice courts has been a problem for years, and increasingly there have been concerns over security as people come in to argue their traffic tickets and they become angry and combative. The revenue will help hire bailiffs.

Currently, there are a handful of district courts around the state that also handle traffic cases, Gladwell said, and those are already collecting the $32 surcharge.

One example, he said, is a street bordering Ogden, where speeding motorists going one direction are not charged the extra $32 because the justice court has jurisdiction and cannot charge the fee. Those going the other direction are charged the fee because the traffic offenses are handled by the local district court, which does impose the surcharge.

"It is not a baby step that we usually are comfortable with," Gladwell said. "But at least everyone will be treated the same all around the state."

Cities say that argument doesn't apply to how the money would be distributed. They have not backed the bill primarily because of the amount that will go directly to county general funds for jail billing.

Jodi Hoffman, legislative analyst for the League of Cities and Towns, said that jail billing has been an ongoing dispute with counties, which want cities to pay for residents locked up at county facilities. Cities, especially in Wasatch Front counties, contend that their residents already pay property taxes for jails, so any additional fees amount to double taxation.

"These are fees to raise revenues," Hoffman said. "In some regards, you can say these are user fees for people in the court system. But it's also the people who are probably the least able to pay."

Mark Walsh, associate director of the Utah Association of Counties, argues that unincorporated residents are footing a $20 million tab statewide for housing inmates, and that by ignoring the jail bills, the cities are ignoring state law. The most important aspect of the bill, however, is the benefits to the justice courts, especially regarding safety.

"As a matter of practice, they don't have" adequate safety, Walsh said. "With this bill, they can the safety they need."

E-mail: spang@desnews.com; jloftin@desnews.com