There are lots of analogies to throw at the topic of this week’s blog. It’s the snowball effect. The horse got out of the barn. Herding cats. These idioms reference situations which have spun out of control and it’s time to reign them in. This could not be more evident than the spaghetti bowl of fines, fees and surcharges placed on criminal and traffic offenses in Illinois. A game-changing bill working its way through the legislative process in Springfield attempts to accomplish this task.
For the record, the ITEA is not taking a position of support or opposition to HB2591. However, it is clear the system is a mess and there is a lack of accountability for the disbursement of the funds. The conflicting and confusing language between the legislature and judiciary places circuit clerks in the dangerous position of interpretation.
Something needs to change.
As it pertains to overweight violations, HB2591 is a home run for the carrier industry. Check that, a grand slam. Better yet, it’s like 162 game ending grand slams in one season, plus the playoffs and World Series. To review, here is the basic breakdown of how overweight fines work.
First, there is a statutory fine. This fine is set by statute and calculates $150.00 for every 500 pounds overweight on axle, gross, bridge formula and elevated structures. There is a different fine chart for certain overweight on registration offenses.
Second, there is a statutory surcharge added to all overweight violations, except overweight on registration. This surcharge is exponential and calculated at $15.00 for every $40.00 of the statutory fine.
Lastly, there are court fees. These vary by county and are constantly on the rise.
HB2591 leaves the statutory fines intact, but eliminates the surcharge and court fees. The bill accomplishes this by striking the surcharge section (found in the Corrections Code, 730 ILCS) and the Clerk of Courts Act (found in the Courts Code, 705 ILCS). There are also amendments to the distribution of fines in Chapter 16 of the Vehicle Code, and other statutes.
Within the surcharge and court fee sections, the legislature divvies the money up into dozens of funds for various projects which may or may not have anything to do with trucks. That’s politics at its finest (or worst).
The truck driver who pays the overweight fine is more concerned about the bottom line than who all is receiving his money. Make no mistake, overweight violations will still be costly under this new legislation, but the bottom line gets much more attractive for truckers.
Because there are so many political pet projects funded by surcharges and court fees, the bill cannot simply do away with them. Instead, HB2591 creates a schedule of “assessments” to be added to each fine.
Each category of crime has a different assessment, whether it is a felony, misdemeanor, sex offense, DUI or traffic offense, the category has a fixed dollar figured added. Within each assessment is a breakdown of the monies, most of which continue to fund the same pet project, but at a flat rate.
For instance, a truck driver receives an overweight violation in Cook County for being 10,000 pounds overweight on gross. Under the law today, the statutory fine would be $3,000.00. The surcharge would add $1,125.00 and the court fee of $179.00 would be added. Total out the door? $4,304.00.
Under HB2591, the statutory fine remains at $3,000.00, but there is only a $145.00 assessment added. Total? $3,145.00. This represents a 27% decrease to the bottom line.
Will there be opposition to this bill? Absolutely. Those with pet projects funded by the exponential surcharge would see their revenues shrink enormously as the truckers would no longer be financing them with the $15.00 multiplier.
At first glance, it appears local law enforcement agencies would see a direct impact as well, but this is not the case. The local government who issues overweight citations does not receive any money from the current surcharge or court fees schedule. Under HB2591, the locals would receive the same percentages of the statutory fines as they have always received.
This is a simplistic look at a 301-page bill, and there are a lot of nuances within it not discussed here. Of course, even if passed, future legislation could seek to amend the traffic assessment figures and increase fees. Time will tell.