Assemblywoman Pam Hunter wants to ensure drivers can keep their licenses and pay off fines issued due to traffic violations.
Hunter, D-Syracuse, is rallying support for her legislation that would establish payment plans for drivers with unpaid tickets. The plans would be offered at no additional charge. Drivers could make monthly payments that can't exceed 2% of their net income or $10, whichever is greater.
The legislation would also end the practice of suspending driver's licenses for failing to pay fines imposed after being convicted of a traffic violation.
New York suspended 1,686,175 driver's licenses for unpaid traffic violations between January 2016 and April 2018, according to the legislative text. Supporters say it disproportionately affects low-income areas and communities of color.
Hunter said the 13025 zip code, which is in her Assembly district, has the highest rate of suspensions in Onondaga County. It also has the highest poverty rate among people of color, she noted.
"It's not saying that people should pay their fines," Hunter explained in an interview. "It's giving them a different mechanism to pay with this payment plan."
The bill is endorsed by the Fines and Fees Justice Center, which launched a campaign to end driver's license suspensions due to traffic debt. Proponents of the measure argue that suspending driver's licenses due to nonpayment of traffic fines can create challenges, especially in areas where there's a lack of public transportation options.
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The state Senate passed the bill mostly along party lines in June. But it didn't get a vote in the state Assembly.
Hunter is hoping for that vote when the state Legislature returns to Albany for the 2020 session. She held a press conference in Syracuse Tuesday to build support for the measure. A similar event was held by state Sen. Tim Kennedy, the sponsor of the Senate bill, in Buffalo.
Before returning for the 2020 session, Hunter said her goal now is to educate her constituents and colleagues about the proposal. She acknowledged there are misconceptions about the bill — that it would allow drivers to escape paying fines for traffic violations.
Hunter also reiterated that suspensions for major traffic offenses, such as driving while intoxicated or vehicular manslaughter, wouldn't be affected by the bill. And it wouldn't prevent driver's license suspensions for nonpayment of child support.
She believes it will benefit municipalities because it will encourage more people to pay fines that couldn't make payments before. That's one reason why she's confident it will win enough support to pass in 2020.
"I think we can definitely get this through," Hunter said.