Kids who skip out on transit payments will no longer face criminal charges under legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday. Fare evasion will result in administrative fines, but won’t escalate into a misdemeanor charge or jail time once the law takes effect at the start of next year.
Santa Clara County’s Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), which relies on the honor system for fare collection, already curbed the number of unpaid-ticket write-ups for youth a few years back, agency spokeswoman Stacey Hendler-Ross said. From more than 1,000 in 2013, the number of citations for the under-18 crowd fell to 435 the following year and 206 in 2015.
“It wasn’t worth our time to issue citations, which can take up to 20 minutes,” Hendler-Ross said. “We don’t make money on them. So in the past few years, we really started focusing on education and telling people to buy a fare at the next stop, or to sign up for programs we have to help them afford fare.”
Under the new law, unpaid fines would head to collections instead of resulting in a warrant, according to Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. James Jensen.
“Therefore, juveniles do not go to Juvenile Hall over a fare evasion,” he said.
San Francisco and Los Angeles counties took a similar tack a few years ago to prevent minors from getting caught up in the criminal justice system for petty violations. The new law, Senate Bill 882, will expand that approach statewide.
The bill, authored by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), is part of an ongoing push by California lawmakers to dial down overly harsh penalties for youth and the working poor. Last year, Herzberg spearheaded an amnesty program to reduce traffic fines by taking into account a person’s income level.
Later this week, legislators will vote on a few more bills that would help decriminalize youth indiscretions. Assembly Bill 2298, introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), would bring much-needed accountability and transparency to the state’s deeply flawed gang database, CalGang. The proposal would require police to notify anyone added to the list of alleged gang members.
Weber’s bill comes in response to a damning audit of the secretive database in four jurisdictions, including Santa Clara County. From a small sample of the 150,000 names entered into CalGang, auditors found 42 babies under a year old and a disproportionate number of black and Latino people.
Another bill pending approval—SB 1052 by Sens. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles)—would allow minors to consult with a lawyer before being questioned by police. Meanwhile, Mitchell’s SB 1322, which decriminalizes prostitution by minors, is headed back to the Senate for a final vote later this week.