March 13, 2013

Traffic violators not likely to get a break on fines

L.D. 190 would give a discount to those who don't challenge tickets; barely passes through committee

By Susan M. Cover
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- An attempt by a local legislator to give a break on traffic fines to those who don't fight the issue in court is still alive, but just barely.

click image to enlarge

Rep. Tim Marks, D-Pittston

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Ten members of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted Wednesday in opposition to L.D. 190, which is sponsored by Rep. Tim Marks, D-Pittston. His bill would give a 10 percent discount to those who pay their traffic fines without challenging them in court.

Marks, a retired state trooper, sponsored the bill because he doesn't think it's fair that those who pay the fines without contesting the ticket sometimes pay more than those who go to court. However, the bill's projected cost -- a loss of $1 million to the state General Fund, an additional $250,000 hit to local law enforcement -- prompted most committee members to reject the bill.

"There's a purpose for traffic enforcement, and I'm not too keen on giving a discount," said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, a former Cumberland County sheriff. "We're going to hurt a lot of viable law enforcement programs."

Marks said he wanted to help local police departments, state police and county sheriffs save money by reducing the time officers spend in court. As a trooper, he was paid four hours of overtime every time he went to court, whether he was there for one case or 10. He also thinks it would save court officials' time by reducing the traffic docket load.

Traffic fines vary widely depending on the offense, but state law calls for a $137 fine for those who speed between 10 and 14 mph over the speed limit. A 10 percent discount would lower the amount to $123.30.

Some committee members said they don't think 10 percent would be enough of a discount to prompt more people to pay upfront. Now 80 percent of those hit with a traffic fine pay it without going to court, according to the state court system.

Marks offered to change the bill by reducing the discount to 5 percent and to add a sunset so the change would expire after a year or two. Neither suggestion changed enough minds to gain broad support for the measure.

The 10-2 vote in opposition to the bill means it still will head to the House of Representatives for consideration, but it has little chance of passing.

Only Marks and Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, voted in support of the bill.

"Give it a year or two to see what happens," Marks said.

Susan Cover -- 621-5643

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