CHICAGO (CBS) — Some who have long battled the city on ticketing practices were skeptical Tuesday, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced a series of ticketing policy changes.
Tickets, red-light cameras, and code enforcement fines all generate big money for the city. The revenue amounted to about $345 million in 2017.
On Tuesday, Mayor Lightfoot announced a plan under which the city will no longer target those who cannot afford the fines. She called it “the first step in ending the practices of balancing the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it.”
The new policies are designed to end punitive enforcement practices that often helped push low-income drivers into bankruptcy for failing to pay parking tickets and resulted in them losing their car because they can’t afford to get it out of the city pound.
“It’s clear that this system disproportionately impacts low-income black and brown communities. We need every Chicagoan contributing to the economic vitality of the city. Chicago can’t afford to continue throwing people into the cycles of debt and poverty due to a few mistakes,” Lightfoot said. “It doesn’t make sense to punish people for not paying their fines by taking away their ability to earn a living and pay that fine back.”
Joe Nathaniel has had five cars booted, and he’s none too faithful in the city’s policy changes. CBS 2 met Nathaniel back in November and caught up with him on Tuesday.
“It would be great if they just eliminated everybody’s debt,” Nathaniel said. “But that’s just not realistic.”
Nathaniel’s ticket fees came out to $7,920.97.
“It just blew me away,” Nathaniel said. “It was like, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
As CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar reported Tuesday, Nathaniel has previously filed for bankruptcy – and he is still working to pay the city back for ticket fines.
”Man, I had like thousands of dollars’ worth of tickets,” Nathaniel said.
Rodney Shelton was ticketed twice in the same day for a city sticker infraction.
“The initial city ticket is $200, and then it doubles to $400,” Shelton said in November. “It’s just wrong. It’s wrong.”
The penalties Shelton faced would no longer be acceptable under Lightfoot’s new plan. Among the proposed changes in the plan are:
- Ending the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for non-moving violations.
- Reinstating the 15-day grace period to renew a city vehicle sticker before issuing a ticket.
- No longer doubling the $200 fine for not renewing a city vehicle sticker; the city currently doubles fines after 83 days.
- Halting the practice of issuing multiple tickets on the same day or consecutive days for vehicle sticker violations.
- Creating a six-month ticket payment plan open to every driver with unpaid fines, and granting more time to motorists facing financial hardship.
- Allowing drivers whose cars have been booted for unpaid fines a 24-hour extension to either pay their fines in full or enter into a payment plan before their car is towed to the pound.
Mayor Lightfoot further said making the system easier will encourage drivers to pay their tickets and other fines if the penalties aren’t as severe – and it’s easier to get on a payment plan.
“We actually think that it will be net neutral, meaning that we will not lose revenue,” Lightfoot said.
Attorney Jacie Zolna expressed doubts about the new plan.
“It’s obviously step in the right direction,” Zolna said, “but it’s a very small step in right direction, because this is a very serious problem that’s been hurting a lot of people for a very long time.”
Zolna is suing the city as he’s done in the past, alleging the city is violating its own people when ticketing.
“For a lot of people, it cripples their life they can’t pay the ticket,” Zolna said. “The fines double. The city starts to threaten to take away their car.”
The mayor will introduce the proposed ticketing changes to the City Council on Wednesday.