Traffic arrest inspires legal change to unpaid traffic fines in Maryland


Lawmakers are pushing a new bill that would decriminalize motor vehicle infractions

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WDVM) — When Baltimore City driver Jason Butler was cited for an improper turn signal, then not having his registration, he was fined. When he didn’t pay the fine, he was jailed for thirty days.

Butler lost his job while incarcerated and with an arrest record it became even more difficult for him to find work, making it even more difficult to pay his fine to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Wednesday at the State House, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh was joined by legislative leaders with the idea that Butler’s situation is worth rethinking on a broader scale.

Lawmakers are pushing a new bill that would decriminalize motor vehicle infractions subject to fine, but still make them subject to collection through Maryland’s civil court system.

In effect, the proposed law would still hold Jason liable for his fine but he would not face jail time that caused him to lose his livelihood.

“This proposal is a bridge to the dignity of work,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson (D – Baltimore City). “Keeping someone in poverty is no way to collect such a fine.”

The proposal announced Wednesday is modeled after one that Virginia and several other states have. Frosh explained that “there are tens of thousands” of Maryland motorists sanctioned by the DMV.

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young joined the state officials today on behalf of his constituent. “Just because you owe a debt,” Young said, “doesn’t mean you have to lose your job.”

Frosh and Ferguson hope the bill will reach the governor’s desk for his signature before the General Assembly adjourns in April.

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