Speeders may help fix budget deficit


Published: Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 9:22 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE - Some speeders will pay $35 more in fines and fees. Running a red light or not wearing your seat belt will cost another $10. And traffic scofflaws won't get a break on their fines for going to driving school.

Hitting the pocketbooks of Floridians who violate traffic laws is one of the smaller ways House and Senate members have agreed to fix a $2.3 billion budget deficit.

The fees are in bills approved by both chambers Friday and will be part of the final budget package that lawmakers will vote on next week at the end of their two-week special session.

The traffic measures will raise about $63 million a year, sparing the courts, state prosecutors and public defenders from deeper budget cuts.

Some lawmakers reluctantly backed the measures saying they were worried about raising fines in a bleak economy when many Floridians are jobless.

"I would hate to have a person go to jail or lose their license because of not being able to pay their fine because they don't have a job," said Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando.

Proponents say the fine increases are a way of keeping the courts running smoothly despite the drop in state revenue.

Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, chairman of the Senate budget committee for criminal and civil justice, said he does not believe the increases will result in more Floridians losing their licenses or being sent to jail because they could not pay a fine.

"But again if an individual elects to break the law, they've elected to pay the fine for breaking the law," Crist said. "My recommendation would be don't speed, don't run that light, don't break the law because if you do, you're going to pay 25 bucks more for it."

The fine increases are relatively modest. A $25 increase in the base fine for someone who drives 15 to 19 mph over the speed limit would increase from $125 to $150 - a 20 percent jump.

Those driving 20 to 29 mph over the speed limit would pay $175 in a base fine, up from $150.

All moving and non-moving traffic violators, like those who have expired licenses or those who don't use a seat belt, would have to pay another $10.

The measure would eliminate the provision that gives violators an 18 percent discount on their fines if they attend traffic school.

But the fines are only part of the story. Traffic tickets are becoming increasingly costly in Florida because lawmakers have also added other administrative fees to the tickets - such as the $10 assessment in the new legislation as well as a $12.50 administrative fee added last year.

Adding court costs, local government surcharges and various fees means Floridians in many communities will be paying more than $200 for tickets for more serious violations - such as running a red light or speeding at more than 20 mph over the limit.

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