Lightfoot outlines plan to ease punitive ticketing, towing and booting policy

The plan includes ending license suspensions for non-moving violations and reinstating a 15-day grace period for vehicle sticker renewals.

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A city of Chicago parking ticket

Chicago’s punitive ticketing policies have forced some people into bankruptcy.

Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to bring equity to an overly punitive ticketing, towing and booting policy that has unfairly targeted minorities and forced thousands into bankruptcy.

On Tuesday, the new mayor will outline her plan to start delivering on those promises.

The mayor’s ticket-debt relief plan, to be introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, would:

• Reinstate the 15-day grace period to renew vehicle stickers.

• Cap the fine for not renewing at $200; it now doubles after 83 days.

• Cease “same-day or consecutive day ticketing” for violators.

• Create a six-month, universal payment plan with lower down payments and, for motorists in financial distress, more time to pay.

• End driver’s license suspensions for non-moving violations. State law allows it, and previous mayors had fought for that power as a way to trim city debt. But Lightfoot’s City Hall no longer will forward the names of motorists to the Illinois Secretary of State’s office for drivers license suspension — provided their offenses are confined to non-payment for standing, parking and compliance violations. Lightfoot also backs a pending bill that would end the penalty statewide.

• Empower scofflaws whose vehicles are booted to request a 24-hour extension to pay their fines in full or get on a payment plan.

During the campaign, Lightfoot promised to dramatically curtail the use of that dreaded wheel-locking device to prevent hard-pressed motorists from losing their wheels and, therefore, their ability to get to work and earn a living.

That could mean “stopping the practice of booting cars for non-moving tickets, raising the threshold of when a car should be booted or limiting the city’s ability to sell impounded cars,” she said then.

With a “boot” attached, the vehicle can’t be driven without inflicting damage.

The city’s punitive ticketing policies — with vehicles booted for lack of payment — have forced some people into bankruptcy.

Sun-Times file

At the time, she noted that since 2011, City Hall had sold nearly 50,000 vehicles owned by motorists who could not or did not pay outstanding debts and boot-removal fees.

She also promised to ‘sunset’ red light cameras used for “revenue — not safety” — and even abolish city stickers, making up the lost revenue with higher fees on ride-hailing vehicles.

The new policy falls far short of the mayor’s promise.

That may explain why Lightfoot claimed earlier this month that Chicago had become so “addicted” to balancing its budget on the backs of those who could least afford to pay, it would take years to wean the city off that bad habit.

Chief policy adviser Dan Lurie called the reforms “Step One of a term-long effort” to unwind an overly-punitive system that “took a long time to build” and will take time to unravel.

The decision to start with payment plans and license suspensions uses “an equity lens — not a blunt instrument” to confront the problem and is aimed at “improving the lives of low-income folks” first, Lurie said, because “we want to allow those people to come back into the economy.”

In a press release outlining what is likely the first round of fine and fee reforms, City Hall noted Chicago’s punitive web of fines and fees has made Cook County a “nationwide leader in Chapter 13 bankruptcies.”

Roughly two-thirds of those bankruptcies include at least some “vehicle debt to the city of Chicago,” the press release states.

“The bold reforms we’re announcing are designed to be the first step in tackling a broken system that turns small mistakes into catastrophic financial event and contributes to a cycle of poverty for far too many families and communities across Chicago,” the mayor was quoted as saying in the release.

“By adopting these reforms, Chicago can provide people real pathways and not obstacles to pay their debt while also receiving revenue that may otherwise remain unpaid.”

A task force spearheaded by City Clerk Anna Valencia wanted to go further, perhaps basing sticker fines on ability to pay and establishing a so-called “fix-it” ticket, giving motorists time to comply before fines kick in.

Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia

A slew of fine and fee reforms being unveiled Tuesday do not go as far as those recommended by a task force headed by City Clerk Anna Valencia.

Chicago Sun-Times file photo

Valencia’s task force also proposed: eliminating the boot for non-moving violations; ending the punitive practice of doubling tickets for non-payment; lifting the overnight winter parking ban on more than 100 miles of arterial streets and imposing it only when it snows or when snow is forecast; and removing the “employment barrier” that has prevented city scofflaws from being hired by the city or agencies of local government.

Valencia said she’s not discouraged that her more sweeping reforms were ignored.

“This is a really good start and a down payment on further reform. ... It’s gonna provide immediate relief for a lot of our residents,” she told the Sun-Times Monday.

Since 2012, over $200 million in city sticker debt has gone uncollected, with one of every three sticker tickets going unpaid, the clerk said.

“This ordinance is gonna remove barriers,” Valencia added. “We’ll be collecting revenue we would never see.”

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