March 6, 2013

Timely payment of tickets would earn discount in new bill

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA -- Rep. Tim Marks wants to give speeders and others who commit traffic infractions a 10 percent discount if they fess up and pay right away.

click image to enlarge

Augusta Police Officer Ben Murtiff speaks with a driver Wednesday in Augusta.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

To Marks, a Pittston Democrat and retired state trooper, it's not fair that those who admit they made a mistake and pay the ticket quickly often pay more than people who contest their fines by going to court.

"They hope and pray the officer who issued the ticket doesn't show up," he said. "Everybody knows if you request a trial, you will get a reduction."

Speeding 10 mph to 14 mph over the limit carries a $137 fine, according to the judicial branch website. A 10 percent savings would bring that amount down to $123.30.

Marks' bill does not give a timeframe in which to pay the amount, but the bill could be amended at work session to add a deadline.

Marks told members of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday that police officers and troopers get paid overtime to sit through court sessions, and sometimes the defendants don't even show up. His bill would apply to all traffic infractions regardless of who writes the ticket.

"It's a waste of time and money on multiple levels," he said.

He hopes his bill, L.D. 190, will provide incentive for people to pay without contesting their tickets, which will reduce the amount of time police spend sitting in court and hopefully shorten the court session.

He said that while the bill will mean less revenue for the state, he believes that loss will be offset by lower costs.

No one testified in opposition to the bill, but Mary Ann Lynch, government and media counsel for the state court system, provided the committee with estimates of how much revenue would be lost by giving a 10 percent discount.

Over the last three years, revenue generated from fines has run between $11 million and $14 million. Reducing it by 10 percent would cost between $1.1 million and $1.4 million a year, she said. Now, 80 percent of tickets are not contested.

Also, Lynch said not everyone is trying to game the system when they contest a ticket in court.

"There are people truly contesting the ticket on the merits," she said. "The courts exist for that reason."

Geoffrey Rushlau, district attorney for Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties, said that in his area, consideration is given to whether someone is a first time -- or repeat -- offender.

"When people show up they don't get a discount for just showing up," he said.

Also, he's not sure Marks' bill would save the court any money, because the staff is salaried and working those hours regardless of what type of case they are handling.

The committee is scheduled to vote on the bill at 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 13, which will determine whether it goes to the House for consideration.

Susan Cover -- 621-5643
scover@mainetoday.com

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