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West Main Street near Oak Grove Elementary School Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Is state creating a fine mess?

The days of having your speeding ticket reduced because of a good driving record would be over if a bill overhauling the state's court fines passes the Legislature this year.

Oregon House Bill 2712 calls for a statewide uniform fine structure for low-level violations such as speeding.

The base fine for a Class B violation, which would include driving 80 mph in a 65-mph zone, is currently $287. However, a judge can reduce this to $216 if the accused has a clean driving record.

The new law calls for a standard $260 fine for all Class B speeding violations and removes judges' discretion to reduce the fine.

This does not sit well with Central Point resident Angela Tuftsman, who accompanied a friend to the Jackson County Justice Court for an appearance on a speeding ticket.

"I think that a person who has been a careful driver should get the benefit of a lower ticket," Tuftsman said. "It's only fair."

Jackson County Justice Court Judge Joe Charter agrees, saying that the majority of drivers have good enough records to merit fine reductions.

"I have senior citizens who haven't had a speeding ticket in 30 years," Charter said. "They should be able to have their fines reduced."

According to a memo drafted by the Joint Interim Committee on State Justice System Revenues, the fine amounts that would be imposed by HB 2712 are based on rulings from courts across Oregon.

The committee reports that the current base fine for a Class A speeding violation, which is traveling at least 30 mph over the speed limit or speeding in a school zone, is $472. The new law would reduce that base fine to $430. Under the present system, a judge could reduce that to $354.

Charter fears the proposed law could lead to more suspended driver's licenses for people who cannot afford to pay the mandatory fines.

"We could have a class of suspended drivers who are working people or the working poor," Charter said. "How are they going to get to work if they can't drive?"

The Oregon Judicial Department has found that 86 percent of offenders choose to pay the base amount without submitting a letter asking for a reduced fine. Such a letter is required to have a fine reduced.

The committee argues that the standardized fines will lower the workload for court staff and save judges the time of reading letters asking for reduced fines.

The committee said the bill will create more transparency in the fine structure. Speeders will simply pay the amount written on the ticket.

Another goal, according to the committee, is to make it easier for people to pay their fines online. The state is considering expanding its online payment options, which could result in increased collections.

Charter fears the bill will create more foot traffic in municipal and justice courts across the state.

"If you are given one option, then why not just choose to fight the ticket in court?" Charter said. "What do you have to lose?"

Charter said he does not mind reading the letters asking for reduced fines. The letters often point out logistical problems that can be corrected.

"Sometimes I'll hear that there is something blocking a sign, and I will call the road department to deal with it," Charter said.

The committee claims the new bill is not meant to increase revenue, and that proposed fines are based on the average of fines levied in previous years.

Regardless, Charter fears an era of "robo judges" could be at hand.

"This bill takes all discretion away from judges," he said. "If you make one mistake but otherwise have a clean driving record, I will usually reduce the fine. The fact is, most folks have pretty good driving records."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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