BY LYNN EDMONDS
New Yorkers will no longer have to pay administrative fees on traffic tickets if their summons is dismissed by a court, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-Jackson Heights) announced on Monday.
Previously, DenDekker said, constituents who challenged their traffic summons in court and had the ticket dismissed would still have to pay $30 or more in administration fees.
“We looked into this and thought how bizarre it was,” DenDekker said.
“New Yorkers fight,” he added. “Even if the ticket is $20, and you make $400 a day, there are people that will take off from work for the point of the matter, ’cause they want their day in court. They’re not going to pay any fine for something that they didn’t do. And this bill now will let them have that ability.”
But such fees haven’t just riled constituents. In other parts of the country, such as some municipalities in Missouri, local governments have kept their budgets afloat with various administrative court fees, often related to traffic violations, which has been an undue burden on poor African-Americans in those areas, a Justice Department report found.
New York State’s problem may not be so severe, but Avella said this type of system could not stand. Generating revenue, he emphasized “is not what traffic law is about.”
The issue stems from the difference between a case being “dismissed,” and a motorist being found “not guilty.” When cases are heard in court and defendants are found “not guilty,” no fees can be assessed. But that is not the case when a case is “dismissed,” or thrown out by the court prior to a hearing.
“That was the loophole,” DenDekker said. “You in theory have no more violation. However, under the old mechanics of the law, you could still be charged a fee. To me this is extremely unfair.”
“In effect, it’s saying you are guilty,” Avella said.
The American Automobile Association, the largest motor club in America, also threw their weight behind the bill, and criticized the old system.
“It’s been a thorn in our side for a long time,” Alec Slatky, a Legislative Analyst for AAA, said of the fee system. “Innocence shouldn’t come at a price.”
Suffolk County in particular came under fire for their hefty $50 fees for dismissed tickets. The county made an estimated $400,000 between April and December 2013 through the fees, according to their own data, before they decided to do away with them in 2013. Suffolk County even returned $263,950 worth of the fees.
The heat soon spread to Nassau County, but that county did not make any moves to ban the fees.
So DenDekker decided to address the matter through state law. He sponsored a bill in the Assembly and asked Avella to sponsor the bill in the Senate. Cuomo signed it into law on Dec. 22. The law will take effect around April 1.
“My advice to anybody who has any violation, specifically in Nassau County, to postpone as long as you can, until April first,” DenDekker said.
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @Ellinoamerikana