The Suffolk County Legislature is looking to put the brakes on its “pay now, or else” approach when it comes to fines levied to ticketed drivers.
Lawmakers have tasked the county’s Traffic and Parking Violations Agency with developing a payment program for the fines it levies to motorists within 90 days. If approved by the Legislature, the plan could allow nonmoving violators to pay their fines in installments, rather than the current system which requires one lump sum, due immediately.
It all started when Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said she was approached by one of her constituents who claimed to be threatened with a driver’s license suspension if he did not pay his nonmoving ticket fine in one full installment.
“The revocation of a driver’s license should be reserved for violators who endanger public safety, not for someone unable to pay a fine on the day it is imposed,” she said.
The county currently has close to $2.3 million in outstanding tickets, lawmakers said. Hahn said that unpaid fines, fees and surcharges associated with parking tickets are often not collected or prove costly to collect and can result in lost revenue for the county government and taxpayers. A payment plan option, Hahn added, is a win-win, because it helps struggling Suffolk County citizens meet their obligations to both their families and to the county.
“A deterrent should never become a detriment, nor should the sting of a ticket ever become the hunger pains of a child,” Hahn said. “While these fines are supposed to serve as a financial deterrent to behavior that puts the public at risk, when unaffordable penalties are imposed and become due immediately, our residents are forced to make decisions that are counter to our values and to the public interest.”
County Legislator Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who serves as chair of the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, said punitive measures are intended to be teaching moments, rather than a road to economic ruin. She applauded the steps the county was taking in allowing ticketed motorists more time to pay fines.
“I congratulate Legislator Hahn for bringing this issue forward,” Browning said. “As a co-sponsor of the bill, I agree that no one should have to make a choice between putting food on the table for their family or paying a fine. Failure to pay causes a person to have a suspended license and potentially lose their employment. A payment plan for middle and low income residents will benefit the resident and the agency.“
Violators cited in New York City have the option of paying fines through an installment plan which requires that a portion of the fee be paid at the time of conviction, followed by monthly payments, with a 9 percent interest charge until the debt is paid in full. Suffolk’s eventual plan may take a similar form as the SCTPVA develops its own program, Hahn said.
The directive to the SCTPVA now goes to County Executive Steve Bellone for final approval. Then, once the SCTPVA develops its plan, the Legislature will have an opportunity to evaluate the proposal and decide whether to implement it.
“Punishment without mercy does not serve this county or its residents,” Hahn said. “I encourage the county executive to sign this bill as it advances the central tenant of fairness in justice.”