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Is this really what we need?

On December 8th, a committee of the Oregon State Legislature will hold a public hearing on a new legislative concept* that would make significant changes in the fees and legal procedures enacted when you receive a traffic citation (or any other type of citation).
Legislative Concept 364 (LC 364, PDF here) has been in the works for over a year in the Joint Interim Committee on State Justice System Revenues. LC 364 would make changes to the fine structures used by courts and police officers, it would eliminate the guilty plea option from traffic citations, it would significantly increase maximum fine amounts, and more.
Currently, the fine amount written by police officers on a citation is significantly more than the minimum fine. When people show up to protest a citation, that amount is lowered, but remains higher than the minimum. For example, a Class C violation has a $143 minimum fine, police officers write $190 on your ticket and the actual fine that is imposed (on average) is $179. Lawmakers have taken the average fine amount doled out by judges and will now have officers write that amount on your citation. Here's a chart provided to BikePortland by the committee:

The committee also wants to drop the "guilty" option for traffic violations because it's redundant with the "no contest" option. Also, according to a committee memo, the guilty plea can "be a trap" and have legal consequences in subsequent civil action. Also, if you get a citation and plead "no contest" you would no longer have the option of submitting a written explanation along with your plea. Here's an excerpt from a committee memo (PDF here) that discusses the advantages of this specific policy change:
... will result in significant administrative savings, since judge’s time will not be used to read letters submitted with the plea (often for the purpose of relative small refunds) and the court will not need to issue checks for refund amounts... could also result in a significant reduction of the number of persons who appear in court at the time indicated in the summons, since the main reason many of those persons appear is the belief that making the appearance is the only way to get a reduction of the fine based on the person’s driving record.
Under proposed language in LC 364, maximum fines for violations would increase substantially (see chart below):

The committee's action on this major policy issue is based on a charter (PDF here) established by the 2009 passage of HB 2287.
If this concept moves forward, becomes a bill, and is eventually passed by the legislature, it would be declared an emergency and would thus go into effect in July 2011. A hearing with public testimony is planned for Wednesday December 8th in Salem.
To learn more about these potential changes, view all the background documents and more on the Joint Committee on State Justice System Revenues website. For details on the hearing, or to email your official comment about this proposal, email committee staffer Erin Seiler at
(*Note: A "legislative concept" is just a draft of an idea for legislation. It only becomes an official bill after a legislator sponsors it and it is formally introduced.)


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