Arizona Democrats Vote Against Bill Allowing Community Service In Lieu of Traffic Fines For Low-Income Individuals

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By Corinne Murdock

Arizona Democrats opposed a bill allowing judges the option to order community service in lieu of court fines for low-income individuals. Their contention was that the legislation took money away from the Arizona Clean Elections Commission. The commission derives its money from speeding tickets.

Under the bill, the community service would be credited per hour at minimum wage rates to make up for the fine, and rounded up to the nearest dollar. This would extend to any monetary obligations sentenced by the court, including civil penalties, surcharges, or any assessments or fees. Time payment fees would be exempted from this bill.

On Thursday, the Arizona House passed the bill 32-27. Only one Democrat voted in favor of the bill: State Representative Alma Hernandez (D-Tucson). No Republicans voted against it. It took over 10 minutes to complete the vote, and no discussions took place.

Likewise, all Democrats except for one voted against the bill in the Senate. Assistant Minority Leader Lupe Contreras (D-Avondale) voted for the bill.

The bill was introduced by Majority Whip Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City). He explained during the House Transportation Committee that the idea for the legislation was borne out of his difficulties with a traffic citation. He learned that individuals must fork over more to set up a payment plan in the first place.

That’s not to mention any other fees, like those required for an appeal.

Biasiucci said that people shouldn’t be punished for not being able to afford a ticket. He described it as a “win-win” for the community and for individuals facing the fines.

State Representative Richard Andrade (D-Glendale) asked why the bill didn’t include Prop 105 language to exempt the clean elections commission.

Biasiucci responded that there are just under twenty other government agencies that also derive their money from speeding tickets. He also reminded Andrade that those who would qualify to do community service rather than pay the fine under this bill would be low-income individuals – not all individuals.

“[T]his is going to be such a small window of people – I mean, you’re talking about people who can’t afford it. And the judge has to approve it,” said Biasiucci. “This is not something that’s just going to impact other areas so much, and I firmly believe you shouldn’t be picking an agency over trying to help the people who can’t afford this. That’s why I decided I’m not going to pick one to exempt.”

According to Biasiucci, the clean elections commission has around $30 million in their account. They only spent $4 million last year. He noted that the idea that this commission would be hurt by this, when they’re rolling over nearly $27 million every year, doesn’t make sense.

“Bottom line is: this is good for the people that are needing it the most,” said Biasiucci. “I don’t care what agency’s being impacted – I support the border protection, I support a lot of things speeding tickets go to. I don’t like the fact that you have organizations that are being funded solely from tickets – I mean, that to me is ridiculous that we’re banking on speeding tickets to fund these groups, whether it’s approved by the voters or not.”

Currently, the commission gets 10 percent of each ticket.

The bill is timely. The legislature recently passed a bill that will increase speeding ticket fines for certain infractions.

For failing to yield right-of-way to emergency vehicles or slow down before stationary vehicles, the current maximum fines sit at $250. The newly-proposed fines come at three levels: $275 for the first violation, $500 the second, and $1,000 for all subsequent violations.

The bill allowing community service in lieu of speeding tickets was transmitted to the governor on Thursday.

Corinne Murdock is a contributing reporter for AZ Free News. In her free time, she works on her books and podcasts. Follow her on Twitter, @CorinneMurdock or email tips to corinnejournalist@gmail.com.