Coercion is an ugly word, but lawmakers have been known to use it as a blunt weapon to force compliance by the very people they represent. The latest and all-too-blatant example of legislative intimidation is contained within California Senate Bill 111. While this bill is about the use of school bus automated enforcement, a topic the NMA has spoken out against many times, we will focus here on the proposed penalty terms that essentially take away the accused’s due process rights.
SB 111 limits the base fines for the first two violations of passing a school bus illegally to $250 each. OK, you might say, that sounds reasonable. But here is the kicker: If the photo ticket recipient feels the citation is unjust and wants to challenge it in court, the bill sponsors have added a significant deterrent. If you avail yourself of the constitutional right to trial, the penalty increases to the range of $695 to $1,000 for a first charge. Try to defend yourself from a second such violation, and you risk a whopping fine of anywhere between $2,130 and $4,000. Pursue your rights further than that, and SB 111 would expose the defendant to a driver’s license suspension of up to one year.
Such heavy-handed lawmaking has just one goal in the name of control: to threaten alleged violators of the consequences of seeking their day in court, a fundamental pillar of our system of justice. How many individuals or families are willing to risk not having the money to pay the rent, the mortgage, or even put food on the table with those types of penalties dangled in front of them? In effect, SB 111 has a “don’t you dare challenge our authority” clause.
Keep in mind, too, that those photo tickets are mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle after the fact. That person may not have been the driver or even in the car at the time of the alleged violation. Want to defend your innocence in that situation? Tough luck, buddy, get ready to pay through the nose.
With claims of voter suppression being commonplace today, SB 111 would suppress basic constitutional rights under cover of law if enacted. If you aren’t outraged because you don’t live in California and aren’t likely to face this situation, think again. While SB 111 may be the latest example of this type of outrageous legislation, the practice has been going on for years in state legislatures across the country. It is why advocacy organizations like the NMA are essential watchdogs for the people’s civil liberties and why your tax-benefited support of our efforts is more vital today than ever before.