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State Senate Ups Traffic Fines


By Shelley Kofler, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Texas cities say they'll lose money if Austin lawmakers are able to increase the state's fine on traffic tickets. KERA's Shelley Kofler says one bill that would do that passed the Senate yesterday.

Police in Texas issue more than six million traffic tickets each year. And for each the State of Texas collects $82. That's more than twice what the state tacked on to the cost of a ticket in 2002.

Now some lawmakers trying to plug a massive state budget deficit want to collect even more when drivers don't signal properly, run a traffic light or commit other traffic violations.

Thursday the Texas Senate passed a bill authored by Democrat Jose Rodriguez of El Paso that would add $10 more to a ticket. Republican Senators John Corona of Dallas and Bob Duell of Greenville are co-sponsors. The new state revenue would be used to fund legal services for low income defendants.

Another bill headed to the House floor would raise the state's fee $15 more, so if both end up passing unlucky motorists would pay the state $107 on top of the local traffic fine.

Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm has said cities would lose money because more drivers couldn't or wouldn't pay.

Suhm: We'd certainly pass it on because that's the state law. The concern would be does this create a situation where people just elect to take the risk of not paying their traffic fines.

When we interviewed Dallas drivers waiting to pay their traffic fines Betty Canales said ticket costs are currently so high she had to delay payment, which meant an additional penalty and a fine over $200.

Canales: People who don't make a lot of money, it's hard for us. I know if we get a ticket it's because we got a ticket, but the money is outrageous and it's crazy.

The Texas Municipal League says some cities have seen their collection rates cut in half as state ticket fees have risen. Executive Director Bennett Sandlin says the fees are a deceptive way of raising state revenue. He says they're turning police officers into tax collectors.

Email Shelley Kofler