[ OUR OPINION ]
Plan to discount fines
boosts Council’s clout
YEAR after year, county governments have gone hat in hand to the Legislature, asking that the state release its hold on revenue collected from uncontested traffic fines, only to be turned away.
The Honolulu City Council is considering a bill that would replace state traffic fines with lower civil fines with the money going to the city.
Tired of being snubbed, the City Council has come up with a clever bill that could pry loose lawmakers' fingers. If legislators don't give up the money, the Council should approve the measure and force the issue.
As the matter now stands, county police departments carry out enforcement of state traffic laws that impose fines on violators. County governments bear the cost of their police officers doing the work, as well as the other administrative expenses.
The state argues that it shells out for court costs and so deserves to keep whatever fines are collected. However, if a violation is uncontested, the state's expenses are minimal, if any, but the money is still funneled into the state general fund.
Citing this inequity, county leaders submit their annual proposal to claim the revenue from uncontested tickets, but as happens every year, the measure appears to be stalled.
To prod the Legislature, Council member Charles Djou has proposed that the city replace current traffic violation tickets with "administrative" tickets carrying civil fines that would be $10 less than amounts set by the state traffic code. If drivers who receive tickets don't pay the lower fine within 10 days or choose to contest violations, they would be issued a regular citation and follow the usual proceedings.
The Council reckons that the "discounts" would entice drivers who are tagged to pay the civil fines, thus denying revenue to the state while diverting dollars to the city.
Star-Bulletin reporter Crystal Kua reports that several municipalities in Minnesota have passed similar laws and the practice has proven popular among residents because of the lower fines. Said Karla Davis, mayor of Kimball, Minn., "We actually receive thank-you letters." She also said people have been sending in more than what they are being fined as donations to the police department.
Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa contends that the city has no right to pass an ordinance to override state laws. Even so, the counties are being unfairly tagged. Lawmakers should cut loose their purse strings.
BACK TO TOP
Strip senator of power
before he does harm
THE state senator responsible for killing campaign spending reform in last year's Legislature has tried to weaken the existing law in the current session. Sen. Cal Kawamoto, who is himself the target of an inquiry into improper campaign spending, withdrew his bill only after other senators rose in opposition. The unseemly effort is further reason why the Waipahu Democrat should be stripped of his leadership role before he catches other legislators asleep in the chamber.
A Senate committee chairman is no longer pushing his bill to relax state rules that punish contractors who break campaign spending laws.
The state Procurement Policy Board approved an administrative rule in September that would allow it to bar from bidding on contracts any company fined more than $5,000 for campaign spending violations. Companies also can be banned from bidding if they have been convicted of a crime or provided shoddy work. The state Campaign Spending Commission has levied more than $1 million in fines on more than 70 government contractors for making illegal donations to local political candidates.
Kawamoto, chairman of the Senate Transportation, Military Affairs and Government Operations Committee, steered through his committee a bill that would allow companies to bid on contracts after being fined by the commission. The bill was on its way to the Senate floor when some senators objected and Sen. Colleen Hanabusa pointed out that the bill had not been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which she chairs.
Democratic Sen. Les Ihara said the bill would have allowed "the most egregious violators" of the campaign spending law to bid for government contracts." Republican Sen. Sam Slom called it "a thinly veiled attempt to undo the modicum of brief reform that we enacted."
Kawamoto is also sponsor of an outrageous bill that would allow the Senate to fire Robert Watada, hired and retained by the Spending Commission as its executive director. He also signed onto an inflammatory resolution proposed by Bunda -- and killed by Hanabusa -- calling for a audit of the commission.
In last year's session, Kawamoto weakened a campaign reform bill to the point that it was worse than the present law. It included a provision that would have changed a part of the law that Kawamoto has been accused of violating. The bill died after Senate President Robert Bunda rejected House Speaker Calvin Say's request that Kawamoto be removed from the House-Senate conference committee.