(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed a measure establishing a pilot program in Cook County that would allow residents under a certain income level to have their traffic court fees waived.
Pritzker signed Senate Bill 626. State Sen. Jacqueline Collins file the legislation, which implements a pilot program in Cook County over the next two years designed to help people pay fees in traffic court.
The program creates a sliding scale to help those at the poverty line. The less a person makes annually, the higher the percentage of traffic court fees would be waived.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a co-sponsor, said the bill only applies to Cook County, but could be expanded if it proves successful.
"This allows Cook County to launch a pilot program that would allow a fee reduction for folks who are at or below the poverty level," Cassidy said. "We, as a legislature, will then work through any data we get from this pilot program to craft the most responsive bill coming out of that task force."
The idea for this legislation comes from a continuous problem of people not being able to pay fees in traffic courts. People who do not have disposable income have no way of paying the fees, which then cost the state money.
Circuit Clerks have opposed the bill because of the impact it could have on their local budgets going forward.
State Rep. Patrick Windhorst raised the same issue.
"We had to request a fiscal note and in the note, there was some statement regarding the uncertainty of the exact cost of this amendment," Windhorst said. "Do we have any idea what the impact will be to state agencies based on this amendment?"
The fiscal note on Amendment 1 said that "It has been determined that the proposed legislation would likely have a negative fiscal impact on local circuit court budgets, as well as state, county, and municipal entities and law enforcement agencies who share revenue collected from traffic assessments."
"It is not possible to formulate a reliable estimate of the fiscal impact of this bill because comprehensive statewide data does not currently exist regarding the percentage of defendants in traffic cases, who would be eligible for full or partial waivers under the criteria contained in the bill, or the dollar amount of waived assessments in those cases that otherwise would have been collected," according to the fiscal note.
The legislature sent Amendment 2, which only applies to Cook County, to the governor.
Cassidy said this legislation has a good chance of bringing more money in.
"What the judges in traffic court have experienced is that when someone can not afford to pay these assessments, they simply don't," Cassidy said. "It is as likely that this bill could be a revenue generator as it is that it could be a cost."
If the pilot program is a success, Illinois could see similar legislation passed statewide in the future.