Today the California states citation amnesty program begins and this program is far clearer than the previous six month amnesty program which was a joke on the people and nearly worthless. The reason that the previous amnesty program was a joke was that it amounted to rolling the dice and walking into court, hoping that you might not end up behind bars.
The previous six month program had nebulous terms akin to the NSA’s Edward Snowden commitment. “Just come in out of the cold and we will help you deal with your citations and get your life back” All you have to do is appear before a judge who will then cite out a plethora of exemptions and you can rest assured you will be one of the unlucky ones.
The problem with the previous program boils down to this: Debtor psychology 101. If respondents cannot map their way out of debt before they waste time in making a court appointment to deal with it then they won’t be making that court appointment.
The previous program did not allow you to get your license back until after you paid up in full. The nebulous amount of reductions one might be able to look forward to failed to motivate scofflaws because it failed in managing debtor psychology.
The program today permits scofflaws to map their way out of debt before they make a court appointment. What goes away by just appearing according to news reports is that the civil action (which amounts to little more than betting that debtor psychology is a real phenomena) will be dropped. Additionally, other penalties added will be dropped and finally, the face value of the citation will be dropped between 50 and 80% and you will be able to make payments AND get your license back (ostensibly so you can keep on making payments)
Today’s program actually makes sense because it deals directly with debtor psychology and unlike the last program, is not nebulous. Unless you have a DUI or reckless driving or owe victim restitution, you’re eligible for substantial relief and may actually get your life and your license back.
But we will unfortunately be dealing with amnesty for years to come unless we can get the legislature to get real about assessments. A recent study concluded that California citations still cost 5 times the national average. People don’t pay because people can’t afford to pay. Sure, many will say that if you do the crime then you must do the time. But what if we doled out prison sentences like we doled out citation debt?
“I hereby sentence you to three years in the state penitentiary for your crime and add another 12 years as penalty assessments”
People who are die-hard crime and punishment have a tendency of not being able to see the forest through the trees. They don’t separate the sentence from the assessments and it is the assessments and the civil action, which as we’ve explained before is little more than betting that debtor psychology is a real phenomena, that remain the problem.
We commend Jerry Brown for his bold plan to chip away at hellhole of desperation that has entrapped more than 4 million people.
Now it is time for the legislature to step up to the plate and unwind those assessments that make a citation cost 5 times the national average if we ever want to see the amount of uncollected debt go in a downward direction.