Council advances
traffic fines bill

The measure allows
the city to keep funds
now going to the state

The Honolulu City Council and state Legislature are headed for a showdown over traffic fine revenues of more than $11 million a year.

Impact on drivers

How would this proposal affect motorists?

>> Now: If you are issued a citation for a parking and traffic violation and do not contest it, you pay your fine to the state Traffic Violations Bureau.

>> Under the City Council proposal: Police must offer an administrative citation for parking or traffic infractions if no other traffic citation was issued to that person or vehicle within the past 24 months. If you do not contest the citation, the fine would be $10 less than the fine specified in the state traffic code. The money would be paid to the city finance director and be deposited into the city treasury.

The Council will vote April 14 on a bill that would enable the city to issue administrative traffic citations. The revenue from uncontested citations would go to the city, rather than the state general fund.

"It could be a contentious issue between the state and the county," said Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa-Pupukea).

The Council's Budget Committee approved the bill yesterday. The bill's author, Councilman Charles Djou, said he believes there are enough votes to pass the measure.

"I think it sends a very, very clear message to the state Legislature that we want some action now on resolving this un-adjudicated traffic fines issue, that if the Legislature is unwilling to move, we are going to move," said Djou, who got the idea from cities in Minnesota that did the same thing.

The counties here, which mainly rely on property taxes for revenue, have gone to the Legislature unsuccessfully for years asking for part of traffic fine revenues. The counties argue that they pay for the costs of police officers enforcing the traffic laws but that the state reaps all the revenues.

But legislative leaders said this year will likely be no different with the issue not moving in the House or Senate.

"I think the Legislature would be poised to amend the statutes and override the city ordinance," Bunda said.

"Maybe we'll just have to close that loophole. I've got to check into it," said House Speaker Calvin Say (D, St. Louis Heights-Kaimuki).

Say also said Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, who supports the counties' efforts to get uncontested traffic fines, will have to deal with any potential loss in revenue.

Say said, "If that's the case, the governor has to come up with a revised financial plan, too, because for her (2005) budget, she'll probably have a deficit."

But members of the Council are not backing down.

"I think it's important for us to step up to the plate and say, 'OK, if the state's not going to give us the money, then we're going to have to do something ourselves,'" Councilwoman Barbara Marshall said.

And in an unusual display of solidarity with the Council, Mayor Jeremy Harris' administration supports the measure. "We believe that the system as it is presently constituted is extremely unfair," said city Budget Director Ivan Lui-Kwan.

Lui-Kwan said the cost for the police enforcement of traffic laws comes to $21 million a year and that the amount of fines collected by the state on Oahu comes to more than $11 million, according to the Judiciary.

The police union is also backing the measure. "We're going to give the citation one way or another," said Alex Garcia, Oahu chapter president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. "We spend a lot of time in court, we spend a lot of time on standby, and the city is not reimbursed and it does trouble our officers."

But the Police Department is opposed to the bill, partly because of the headache it could cause the department in administering the citations.

Assistant Chief Robert Prasser said, "Generating revenue for the city is not an evil thing of itself, unless you have your city police force stopping people, perhaps arbitrarily, giving tickets where the public could have a perception that we're more or less bounty-hunting."

Courts spokeswoman Marsha Kitagawa said the Judiciary was not aware of the Council bill and so does not have a position on it.

The Judiciary has noted operational and technical concerns, however, on two related bills at the Legislature, she said.

Kitagawa said, "The Judiciary has staff that processes even un-adjudicated traffic infractions, so if the intent of the bill is to collect the traffic fines to pay for costs incurred by police officers to write those traffic fines, there's also costs that we incur to process that, and that wouldn't be reimbursed, so to speak, if the counties take 100 percent of those fines."


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