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Tue, March 02

Bill would let speeders work off fines

Rep. Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City) supports a bill that would allow judges to convert fines for speeding to community service. (Miner file photo)

Rep. Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City) supports a bill that would allow judges to convert fines for speeding to community service. (Miner file photo)

PHOENIX – Got a bit of a lead foot while behind the wheel? But short of cash?

State lawmakers are moving to let motorists work off their traffic fines.

HB 2110 would allow – but not require – a judge to convert a fine into community service. And it would translate into $12 for every hour worked.

Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, said he doesn't envision this being an option for everyone.

"Not many people will be taking advantage of this,” he told colleagues on the House Transportation Committee that considered the measure on Wednesday.

"If you think about it, do you really want to waste time doing community service?” he asked. "Probably not.”

He said many motorists will choose to go to traffic school where a four-hour class can wipe a citation off the record. And for others, Biasiucci said, it might be easier to simply "pay the ticket and get done with it.”

"But for the people that really need it, which is a small group, they're going to take advantage,” he said.

Biasiucci said these are people who can't afford the ticket – and the various surcharges that can nearly double the fine – and end up having their licenses suspended for failure to pay. It gets more complicated as then they get arrested for driving on a suspended license and their car gets impounded.

Anyway, he pointed out, the legislation makes it optional for a judge to offer community service.

The plan has the backing of the American Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education, an organization that lobbies for the rights of motorcyclists.

Lobbyist Michael Infanzon told of a rider who ended up in legal trouble when he didn't keep up with a payment plan and had his license suspended. He told lawmakers that judges need discretion to deal with people who have financial issues.

"I think he's trying to do something really great,” Rep. Amish Shah, D-Phoenix, said of Biasiucci.

But the measure, while approved by the Transportation Committee on a 6-2 margin, faces an uncertain future. And the issues appear to be purely legal.

One deals with the fact that the Citizens Clean Elections Commission is financed largely by a 10% surcharge on civil, criminal and traffic fines.

The commission, created by voters in 1998, provides public funds to candidates for statewide and legislative office who agree not to take private dollars. It also puts out voter education pamphlets and conducts debates.

Tom Collins, the commission's executive director, said that the funding for those activities was part of what voters approved. And he said the Legislature is constitutionally precluded from undermining that funding source.

Biasiucci, however, said he doesn't see it that way.

He said the voter-approved law says the commission gets 10% of money that is collected. He said if there are no dollars collected, there's nothing to share with the commission.

Marilyn Rodriguez, who lobbies for Living United for Change in Arizona, said there's another potential legal issue.

She noted the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude "except as a punishment for crime where the party shall have been duly convicted.” Rodriguez said it is an interesting question whether the legislation amounts to mandating court-ordered labor for civil violations.

Still, Rodriguez said her organization hopes something can be worked out.

"We do believe it is possible to achieve an outcome to help those trapped in the justice system simply because they do not have the resources to climb out of the monetary hole,” she said.

The measure goes to the full House after a review of constitutional issues by the Rules Committee.

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