Stop excessive traffic fines and fees that disproportionately penalize poor and working class people of color. The City of Chicago must stop penalizing low-income drivers through inequitable fees by eliminating the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid parking tickets. The city should also assess the current fee structure and adopt an income-based sliding scale fee schedule so low-income people are not crippled by fees they will never be able to pay off.
Excessive court fines, traffic tickets and compounding fees that people simply cannot afford to pay regularly lead to lost opportunities, whether through lost jobs or housing, suspension of driver’s licenses and even incarceration. A recent investigation by ProPublica found that debt from traffic tickets alone disproportionately burden African Americans in Chicago, leading to crippling debt that most often results in bankruptcy.
Recommendation: The city should reassess current fee structures to determine how compounding fines, late fees, red-light camera tickets and license suspensions can be reduced or eliminated. Chicago can pursue an income-based structure that allows for waivers of some fees and a sliding scale for low-income people with traffic violations. In Illinois, 44 percent of license suspensions were drivers from majority black zip codes and 54 percent were from low-income zip codes. Many states are ending their policy of suspending licenses for nonpayment of fees due to inherent inequities.
100 Day Actions
- Build on the work started by the Clerk’s fees and fines taskforce to review the current fee structure and develop recommendations for reform.
- Assign staff from the Mayor’s office to support the ongoing work of the taskforce.
- Eliminate the minimum down payment of $1,000 to establish a payment plan and create amnesty program for residents with overdue fees.
- Establish a moratorium on red-light camera tickets until the system and placement of cameras is reviewed for inequities.
First Year Actions and Goals
- Eliminate anti-scofflaw law for city employment
- Audit of red light camera fines
First Term Goals
- Mayor advocates in Springfield for the elimination of driver’s licenses suspensions for unpaid ticket debt.
Why the time is right
A new administration could provide a new perspective on this issue by creating an amnesty program for existing overdue fees and calling for a moratorium on red-light cameras until the city can thoroughly review the current structure and create a fee schedule that violators can actually pay without causing long-term financial harm to low-income individuals. The City Clerk has started a task force to examine this issue and develop actionable recommendations. Legislation was introduced to the General Assembly last year to eliminate the suspension of driver’s licenses for inability to pay fines but Chicago officials opposed the proposal. The city’s overreliance on revenue generated by parking tickets fuels the resistance so a broader solution to the city’s revenue problem is needed.
What it will take
Support from City Clerk, Mayor’s Office, and City Council. Ordinance to enact an income-based fee schedule.