Florida OKs higher traffic fines to bolster budget

| 1/20/2009

The Florida Legislature approved a bill that would increase fines for driving violations. It is intended to help plug a $2.3 billion budget hole.

Meeting during a special budget-cutting session this month, lawmakers endorsed legislation that would raise the cost of all traffic tickets by $10 while speeders would pay $25 more. The bill, S12-A, now heads to Gov. Charlie Crist’s office for his signature.

On the cutting board is an 18 percent discount available to offenders who attend traffic school. They would still avoid extra points. Judges also would be prohibited from waiving fines.

The extra money for the state is expected to reach $16 million this year and $63 million in 2010. It would be routed into newly created trust funds that pay public defenders and prosecutors.

Supporters say the changes would help the state’s financially strapped court system as well as possibly deter dangerous driving.

Critics counter that the economic condition of many motorists makes it difficult for them to afford higher fees. They also question whether the punishment fits the crime.

Others say that law enforcement would be more likely to issue warnings rather than issue pricey tickets that drivers cannot afford.

The base fine for all moving and non-moving traffic violations, including failure to buckle up and red-light running, would increase $10.

Base fines for driving 15 to 19 mph over the speed limit would increase from $125 to $150 – a 20 percent jump. Speeding in excess of 20 to 29 mph over the limit would result in $175 fines, up from $150.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Florida in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor