By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- A first-term state lawmaker, miffed about what he says is an expensive traffic ticket, wants to mandate an alternative to paying them for all motorists: community service.
Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, said some people just can't afford to pay for citations. So he is proposing that judges be required to offer them a non-cash option.
His HB 2055 also would bar courts from imposing additional fees for those who are willing to pay but just need some time to do it.
The measure is drawing criticism from the League of Arizona Cities and Towns concerned about the loss of revenues.
"These fines go to run the courts and to help pay for public safety costs,'' said Tom Belshe, the organization's executive director.
It's even more complex than that.
Every fine has a series of surcharges attached. So on top of the basic penalty are additional charges for everything from police training and running probation programs to providing dollars to candidates who seek office using public funds.
But Biasiucci told Capitol Media Services none of that takes into account the plight of those who face a ticket.
In his case, he said he was cited for parking in an alley.
"No signs posted anywhere,'' Biasiucci complained. "They said it was part of the law and I should have known the law.''
What there was was a ticket and charges totaling $80.
The lawmaker said he asked about community service.
"They said that wasn't an option,'' Biasucci related. Then he inquired about a payment plan.
"They said, 'You can do that, but then there's an extra $30 or $40 fee on top of the fine,'' he continued. "That's just getting them in more and more of a hole.''
Biasiucci said that attitude makes no sense when the Legislature is looking at criminal justice reform.
"We're trying to help out people,'' he said. "And this is not the way to do it, in my opinion.''
The system as Biasiucci envisions it would be simple.
"Let's say your fine is $120,'' he said. The court would translate that into a formula to determine how many hours of community service that would need to fulfill, perhaps in the range of 10 hours.
"Not everybody's going to do it,'' Biasiucci said.
"We all know that,'' he said. "People aren't going to want to do community service. They'd rather pay the ticket or go to traffic school for four hours.''
That last option does wipe the citation off of someone's record. But it doesn't save any money as the cost of traffic school, coupled with court fees, usually pretty much equals the fine.
And you can't enroll without first paying that fee.
Biasiucci said he's not impressed with the arguments that a community service option could leave cities and counties -- and the special funds fueled by surcharges -- short of dollars.
"This shouldn't be a cash cow,'' he said.
"This isn't something that should be seen as a revenue generator,'' Biasiucci continued. "If it's gotten to that point I think we have a problem if we're depending on parking in an alley to generate money for the city.'