A Mayor Proposes Major Changes to How a City Collects Fines and Fees

Chicago is considering an overhaul of its fines and fees system.

Chicago is considering an overhaul of its fines and fees system. Shutterstock


Connecting state and local government leaders

STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Police officers in New York doused while making arrests … Calls for Puerto Rican governor to step down … Portland, Maine struggles to house asylum seekers.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has proposed changes to the city’s systems of fines and fees as a way of relieving debt for tens of thousands of city residents. The reforms would eliminate driver’s license suspensions for non-driving violations, reduce city sticker penalties, and make payment plans more widely available. The changes would result in millions of dollars of lost revenue for the city, but Lightfoot said they will be “net-neutral” because the city has “mountains of uncollected debt” from people who stop making installments on their payment plans or don’t pay at all. “We hope that this will spur people to actually get on board and pay their tickets. The bold reforms we're announcing are designed to be the first step in ending the practices of balancing the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it. By adopting these reforms Chicago can provide people real pathways and not obstacles to pay their debt while also receiving revenue that may otherwise remain unpaid,” Lightfoot said. Almost two-thirds of bankruptcies in the county include vehicle debt to the city of Chicago, so Lightfoot said that the changes would return people’s dignity. She is supported by City Clerk Anna Valencia, who called the move historic. "As elected officials we have a responsibility to bring people together, to listen to them and amplify their voices but the most important aspect of this is being bold enough to act. Today, we took a monumental step in creating a city that gives all of our residents the opportunity to thrive,” she said. Lightfoot will officially propose the change at a City Council meeting this week. [ABC 7; Chicago Tribune]

GOVERNOR RESIGNATION | Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of Puerto Rico, announced his resignation from office Wednesday night after days of massive protests in the streets of San Juan. Last week, 900 pages of private messages between Rossello and his advisers were made public, revealing regular use of homophobic and sexist slurs, as well as insults directed at political opponents. Rosselló's administration has also faced numerous corruption scandals. Tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets, blocking major highways and chanting “Ricky renuncia,” or “Resign Ricky.” Over the weekend, the governor said he would not seek reelection in 2020, but would stay in office for the remainder of his term. But on Wednesday night, he took to television and Facebook, saying he would resign effective Aug. 2. In his speech, Rosselló listed some of his accomplishments in office. “What I wish most is peace and progress for my people,” he said. In recent weeks, his administration seemed to be falling apart around him. Earlier this month, two high-ranking officials were arrested for allegedly directing millions of dollars worth of contracted to politically connected firms. Several of his closest aides, including his chief of staff, have also stepped down in light of the scandal. A judge has also issued search warrants for the cellphones of Rosselló and 11 other government officials tied to the private messages. Wanda Vázquez, a former prosecutor who headed the US territory’s office of women’s affairs, will replace Rosselló when he leaves office.  [New York Times; NBC News; The Guardian]

POLICE OFFICERS DOUSED | Footage on Twitter showed police officers in New York City being doused with buckets of water while attempting to disperse people around open fire hydrants, leading former mayor Rudy Giuliani this week to criticize current mayor Bill de Blasio about the policing climate in the city. “That would never happen in a million years while I was mayor of New York City,” Giuliani said. “Actually, it wouldn’t happen if we didn’t have a progressive, retrogressive, completely lazy mayor in New York City who is absolutely destroying the quality of life in this city.” Edward Mullins, president of the police sergeants union in New York, also criticized de Blasio. “The perpetrators of these crimes are emboldened by the Mayor, who has shown nothing but disdain and contempt for the police since January 2014, when he was sworn into his first term,” Mullins said. De Blasio did not respond to criticism, but did respond to a video of the incident on Twitter. “Completely unacceptable...The NYPD kept New Yorkers safe through the heatwave and last night's outages. We won't tolerate this kind of disrespect,” he tweeted. Three arrests were made Wednesday in two separate incidents of hurling water at police. [New York Times; NBC New York; New York Post; The Root]

ASYLUM SEEKERS | Some city council members in Portland, Maine are accusing the mayor of spreading disinformation about the housing options available to asylum seekers in the city. Currently, over 200 migrant families are housed in a temporary shelter, as the city tries to place them in more permanent housing. Much of the housing identified thus far has been outside the city limits of Portland, but some families are now refusing to accept housing outside the city. Some councilors say that is because Mayor Ethan Strimling has been visiting the shelter regularly, and telling migrants that they can stay at the shelter if they don’t like the housing picked for them. City policy, however, says that anyone who refuses housing must leave the shelter. “It’s very frustrating and upsetting for staff to work this hard to find housing for these families and have it turned down over and over,” said Kristen Dow, director of the city’s Health and Human Services Department. Strimling, however, said he has merely been comforting the families and having conversations. “I understand some people want to make this about me and not about these families. The families are who we need to help. I am doing everything I can to help them and they know it and the community knows it,” he said. But one city councilor, Belinda Ray, said the mayor was making false promises. “We have a member of this body that has been spreading misinformation about the city policy and it is putting people in peril of becoming homeless. I don’t think we can ignore this issue,” Ray said. [Portland Press-Herald; Maine Public Radio]

EDUCATION SECRETARY | New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham fired Education Secretary Karen Trujillo this week, saying that Trujillo had not met expectations for the state’s rollout of education reforms. Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesperson for the governor, said that Trujillo lacked the leadership qualities to make the governor’s “moonshot” education plan a reality. “If we’re going to deliver on the moonshot for education that [the governor] has called for, and that kids deserve, we had to make an immediate change,” Stelnicki said, adding that “any concerns about near-term management I think are unfounded because we have really strong deputies in place.” Trujillo, however, said she was blindsighted by the firing. "They were not really able to give me a reason. I am very, very shocked and surprised. I felt I was leading the Public Education Department in a very positive direction," she said. Trulillo had been unanimously approved by the state Senate, and her appointment was supported by teacher’s union leaders. In June, a state judge ruled that the state was not meeting its constitutional requirement to provide all students with an adequate education. [KVIA; Albuquerque Journal]

Editor's Note: This roundup was updated after publication to include new information about Puerto Rico and the police water dousing incidents in New York City.

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

NEXT STORY: Immigrant Families Interrupt Daily Routines Due to Fear of Immigration Policies, Report Says