Vehicle sticker changes: grace period, scofflaw amnesty — and maybe, lower fines

SHARE Vehicle sticker changes: grace period, scofflaw amnesty — and maybe, lower fines

Mayoral hopeful Toni Preckwinkle says if elected, she will address inequities highlighted by a study released last year that showed fines for not displaying a city vehicle sticker were more aggressively enforced against minorities. | File photo

Chicago will create a four-month city sticker, restore a 15-day grace period, offer a month-long amnesty and re-examine “exorbitant” penalties to ease the burden on 500,000 delinquent motorists.

City Clerk Anna Valencia has been under fire for presiding over an overly-punitive city sticker enforcement system that has driven thousands of motorists into bankruptcy, many of them African-American.

Valencia confronted that elephant in the room Tuesday during her turn on the hot seat at City Council budget hearings.

In her opening statement and again under questioning, Valencia openly acknowledged harsh penalties imposed after Mayor Rahm Emanuel increased city sticker fees in his first budget may have gone too far.

“You have to think about it: 2011 was a financial crisis in our city. Everyone was looking at generating revenue. Over time, we just have to go back and look at our policies and see if they still make sense,” Valencia said.

“It’s good for our city, eight years later, to review policies and make sure that we’re not having unintended consequences,” she said, noting: “A lot of it happens in black and brown communities.”

With 500,000 motorists now “out of compliance,” Valencia said a new four-month sticker will be rolled out next year to give hard pressed motorists the option of paying $29.28 instead of just under $90. She likened it to a payment plan.

At the same time, the city will offer a “forgiveness program” giving motorists “about a month” to purchase a valid sticker “with no late fee or back charges,” Valencia said.

A 15-day “grace period” discontinued in 2011 will be brought back to provide “some cushion” to motorists now hit with a $200 ticket, a $60 late fee after 30 days and a “back charge for every day” they miss after that, according to the clerk.

If those changes and a billboard-laden education campaign don’t bring down the number of delinquent motorists, Valencia said she would also “take a hard look at our own office’s fines and fees and come back to you all with possible recommendations.”

Earlier this year, a joint investigation by Pro Publica and WBEZ-FM Radio shined the spotlight on the punitive nature of sticker enforcement and racial disparities in the ticketing system.

The investigation disclosed: only one in three sticker tickets issued during 2016 were paid within a year; black neighborhoods were disproportionately targeted for sticker violations, with tickets issued by police driving the difference; and, sticker tickets issued to motorists in more affluent neighborhoods were more likely to be dismissed.

That’s primarily because more affluent motorists were more likely to appeal.

After analyzing ticketing information since January, 2007, Pro Publica and WBEZ also pinpointed nearly 20,000 incidents when the same vehicle was slapped with multiple sticker tickets on the same day.

By fessing up to those inequities and presenting an affirmative plan to remedy them, Valencia took the sting out of what could have been harsh questioning by aldermen.

Instead, everybody was pulling in the same direction, even if Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) was ready to move immediately on relaxing the “exorbitant” penalties.

“We have look at ways to start forgiving that debt and just clean the slate with a lot of people because too many people are going into bankruptcy — by the thousands. Then, they can’t contribute to Chicago in any other way,” Waguespack said.

“They’re afraid to go the secretary of state. They’re afraid to walk into City Hall. They’re afraid to take their car out of the garage and go to work. They can’t even drive because they lose their license. We need to … figure out a way to stop this.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Valencia in December 2016 after Susana Mendoza was elected state comptroller. Mendoza is now poised to join the crowded race for mayor.

Valencia was supposed to be Emanuel’s new running mate. Now that Emanuel has pulled the plug on his own re-election bid, Valencia is flying solo.

On Tuesday, Valencia flatly denied that her quick response to the city sticker controversy was driven by politics.

“I’m doing this because it’s my job,” she said. “I’m doing this because I was put here to lift people up.”

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