Giving out cheaper traffic tickets could help California collect more cash.
That's according to new data by the California Traffic Tickets/Infractions Amnesty Program, which ended April 3, 2017.
A 2015 report found that California had more than $10 billion in uncollected court-ordered debt and more than 4 million suspended licenses.
The same year, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a traffic amnesty program to help people with unpaid tickets and suspended licenses. The program helped relieve fees and penalties racked up prior to 2013 by people who couldn't afford to pay for their tickets and left them unpaid. Very low-income individuals received even greater reductions.
Over the course of the program, more than 205,000 Californians received amnesty fee and fine reductions and more than 192,000 had their suspended licenses reinstated, according to the California Judicial Council.
The state kept track of revenue collected under the program and found that when Californians are given a reduced debt and the option of a payment plan, more money can be collected by the state.
How is it possible to collect less money and make more total revenue?
When the state reduces the cost of unpaid ticket fees, allows payment plans and eliminates punishment, it makes it much easier for people to pay their debt and more money is collected because debt is actually being paid, rather than avoided.
Debt is harder and more costly to collect once it becomes delinquent, according to the study. This is especially true when a person can't afford to pay.
Under the amnesty program, three times more revenue was collected than in other court-ordered delinquent collections.
Numerous California counties cited the amnesty program as the reason for increased collections.
University of California, Los Angeles professor, Beth Colgan, researched several pilot programs that were carried out in the 1980s and 1990s that used day-fines, which are fines set to a person's ability to pay.
Colgan's findings were consistent with the results from the amnesty program. Under the pilot programs, people with flat-rate fines were less likely to pay anything, while more people paid their debt when given adjusted fines and more money was collected.
In order to cut administration costs when collecting financial data from individuals, one pilot used a nonprofit while others relied on self-reporting of financial data so staff didn't have to use extra resources for verification.
"In addition to the straightforward administration of determining each defendant's financial circumstances, a properly designed system for graduating economic sanctions may have the potential to relieve congested court dockets." Colgan said in the study.
Additionally, Colgan found that when using supportive collection programs, more people paid on time.
So if there's data out proving the effectiveness of reducing ticket fines, what's next?
A proposed bill would prevent the automatic suspension of driver's licenses for people who can't afford to pay fines or fees for minor traffic tickets, and require courts determine the individual's ability to pay before setting fine amounts.
SB 185 would also reinstate suspended licenses for drivers who are making an effort to begin payment plans.
Gov. Brown showed his support for the idea in his proposed spending plan for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
If the bill passes, the new law would allow courts to reduce fees by 80 percent. Those financially able to pay their traffic fine would only pay up to 5 percent of their family monthly income. People unable to pay anything at all would owe nothing until their circumstances change.
The bill could be on the Senate floor as early as the end of the month.