In the wake of California Immigrant Day at the State Capitol, California’s Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco and San Mateo Counties) is moving a bill through the Legislature that will allow a city or county to exempt a person from the 30 day impound period when the only offense involves a person who does not have a driver’s license.
Many cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Baldwin Park and Los Angeles among others, have stopped or are in the process of stopping the impoundment of vehicles from unlicensed drivers at routine traffic stops.
Most recently, the California Attorney General, Kamala D. Harris released an opinion on in which she concluded that a police department has discretion to establish guidelines that would allow an impounded vehicle to be released in less than 30 days.
Let’s hope that the Orange County cities that have large Latino populations, including Anaheim, Santa Ana, and Fullerton, get behind Assemblywoman Ma’s AB 1993!
Here is additional information about this bill, as provided by Ma’s office:
Fact Sheet, AB 1993 – Assemblywoman Fiona Ma Inequitable Impounds
Summary: AB 1993 would allow a city or county to exempt a person from the impound period where the only offense involves a person who does not have a driver’s license.
Background & Problem:
When a driver commits a correctable traffic violation like a broken tail light, a police officer will usually cite the driver with a “fix-it ticket,” allowing the driver to drive away, so long as the driver fixes the correction and pays the DMV an administrative fee.
When a driver commits a minor traffic infraction like having an expired license, the police officer will verify that the driver has a driver’s license. Once they check that their registration and license is current and up to date, they will cite the driver with a ticket which the driver must contest/correct with a judge. The judge will verify that the license has been renewed. Depending on county, the ticket will range from $15.00-25.00.
However, in most parts of the State, an unlicensed driver who commits a similar traffic violation or minor traffic infraction is unable to receive a “fix-it ticket.” Instead, the driver must abandon their vehicle for impoundment. Under current law, a local jurisdiction may hold the vehicle for at least 30 days, requiring the driver to pay, on average, a $170 towing fee, and daily $60 storage fee, costing these drivers between $1200- $1,800. In some urban areas, this fee can be as high as $3,000.
In 1994 lawmakers changed the Vehicle Code to allow law enforcement to seize the vehicles of unlicensed motorists for 30 days. These changes in law have led to thousands of cars impounded per year, forfeiture of personal property, and lucrative fees to car owners.
In 2009, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the City of Oakland towed over 2,000 cars from unlicensed drivers, netting the city $288,120 in impoundment fines. Most of these drivers, unable to afford the impoundment fines, are forced to forfeit their vehicles due to the financial strain these fees create.
Federal Courts and local governments have independently weighed in to address this injustice. In 2005, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an Oregon case that law enforcement cannot impound a vehicle if the only offense is unlicensed driving. California cities like San Francisco, Berkeley, San Jose, Oakland, Baldwin Park and most currently Los Angeles, have decided to stop impounding vehicles from unlicensed drivers at routine traffic stops.
AB 1993 applies the same equitable standard to all drivers by exempting an unlicensed driver from the 30 day impounds period. This bill would give the driver “reasonable time” to call a licensed driver to show up at the scene and drive the vehicle away. This bill would also allow the driver to park the vehicle in a safe area.
If the driver needs to park the vehicle, AB 1993 requires the driver to assume all responsibility in the event the vehicle injures anyone after the driver has been pulled over, by signing a waiver of liability.
AB 1993 saves law enforcement time by allowing our public safety officials the discretion to address more serious traffic offenses.
AB 1993 does not waive impound periods for drivers who have had previous serious driving convictions such as driving under the influence (DUIs) of alcohol or drugs, reckless driving and negligent operator status, failures to appear in court, and those who have had their driver’s incenses suspended or revoked.
AB 1993 would end the unfair and unnecessary car impoundment policies which are resulting in severe financial hardship for low-income individuals and families in California.
- Immigrant Legal Resource Center (Sponsor)
- American Civil Liberties Union of California
- California Attorneys for Criminal Justice
- California Immigrant Policy Center
- People Improving Communities through Organizing
- Congregation Building Community
- Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund
- Mujeres Unidas y Activas
- Pomona Habla/Speaks a Community Coalition
- United Farm Workers of America
- Centro Latino for Literacy
- Oakland Police Department
- Pomona Economic Opportunity Center (PEOC)
Contact: Lizette Mata | (916) 319-2012