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Buried under unpaid traffic fines? California launches amnesty program

Traffic tickets

A state amnesty program for some old, unpaid traffic tickets goes into effect Thursday.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

An amnesty program for Californians saddled with unpaid traffic tickets takes effect Thursday, paving the way for low-income drivers to win back their licenses.

Under a bill passed by the Legislature, drivers will receive discounts of 50% to 80% on tickets that should have been paid before Jan. 1, 2013, according to the Judicial Council, the policy making body for California courts.

Installment payment plans also will be offered. Californians who lost their driver’s licenses because they could not afford to pay the fines will be eligible to have them reinstated, the Judicial Council said.

Those with parking tickets or convictions for reckless driving or driving under the influence and drivers ticketed in more recent years will not be eligible for the assistance.

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State lawmakers and judges decided to address the problem of mounting unpaid traffic fines  after a coalition of civil rights and legal aid groups reported in April that 4.2 million Californians had their driver’s licenses suspended during the last eight years because they could not pay escalating fees.

The state raised the fines during its budget crisis. A traffic ticket with a base fine of $100 grew to nearly $500 because of additional fees and penalties the Legislature adopted to help pay for the court system and other programs. That fine jumped to $815 if the driver missed the initial deadline for payment.

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The program will run through March 31, 2017.

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Twitter:  @mauradolan

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