Two laws regarding fines for traffic offenses which are sitting on the governor’s desk in Springfield awaiting approval had their origins in Riverside.
House Bill 6151, whose primary sponsor is state Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside), would force judges to impose local police department fines if defendants are found guilty of traffic offenses or are given court supervision.
Routinely, police chiefs argue, Cook County judges dismiss local fines but don’t waive fees that go toward county court costs, which add up to more than $100 by themselves.
“Our officers issue the tickets and do the stops,” said Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel. “They’re the ones running the risk of not knowing who’s behind the wheel. The safety part is met, but there’s no fine for the work done by our police officers.”
Riverside Village President Michael Gorman, who sits on the West Central Municipal Conference’s (WCMC) legislative committee earlier this year approached Weitzel to see if there was anything he could propose to that committee to help police bolster revenue.
According to Gorman, Weitzel proposed mandating municipal fines in court and also proposed increasing the administrative towing fee imposed by municipalities in DUI cases from $500 to $750.
Gorman proposed both ideas to the WCMC, which gave their approval. Gorman then set out to find sponsors for the bills. He found support for what became HB 6151 from state Rep. Bob Biggins (R-Elmhurst), the bill’s initial sponsor, and Zalewski.
“I’m very pleased they are on the governor’s desk,” said Gorman. “This is not just for Riverside, but for every municipality in the state of Illinois.”
Meanwhile, with the support of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, the administrative towing fee bill (Senate Bill 3616) found a sponsor in state Sen. Dan Cronin (R-Elmhurst). Both bills were filed in the state’s General Assembly on Feb. 11.
SB 3616 passed both houses on May 3 and was sent to the governor’s office on June 1. HB 6151 passed both houses on May 26.
“I fully expect him to sign HB 5161,” said Zalewski, who was named the bill’s principal sponsor on the day the bill passed in both houses. “There’s a reason those fines are in place. Obviously there’s the crime prevention part, but it’s also expensive for officers to write the tickets. It’s not a case of we just want our money, we need this money.”
Weitzel said it’s unclear just how the new laws, if signed, would affect local police revenues.
“It’s hard to say, as fines depend on arrests and traffic stops,” Weitzel said.
Still, he said, “Those fines directly affect municipal police budgets.”
Initially, HB 6151 sought to impose a minimum fine judges had to require if a defendant was found guilty or given court supervision. However, a senate amendment stripped out that language and instead allows judges to order fines paid within a certain time period or in installments.
One of the reasons judges and prosecutors agreed to waive municipal fines is that they found the fine plus court fees too onerous for defendants, Weitzel said.
As for SB 3616, not only would the administrative towing fee, such as the ones both Riverside and North Riverside collect, be raised from $500 to $750, the local agency’s share of that fine would increase from $150 to $350.