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Lightfoot overhauls Chicago’s punitive ticketing and debt collection

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The high cost of minor violations has sent residents into debt

Chicago’s ticketing and debt collection practices are predatory—the high cost of minor violations and punitive practices disproportionately affect black, low-income residents. On Wednesday, the plans to overhaul the unfair system were approved by City Council after the mayor introduced a comprehensive plan on July 23.

It’s an issue that ProPublica and WBEZ have jointly investigated for over a year, and since then, city officials have said they wanted to address the problems.

The administration’s new policies will change enforcement practices and end penalties like driver’s license suspension for failing to pay violations. The legislation makes significant changes to city sticker violations, too.

Here’s what will take effect immediately:

  • Stop doubling the price, from $200 to $400, of vehicle city stickers when drivers fail to renew
  • Reinstate the 15-day grace period for renewal
  • No more same-day or consecutive day ticketing for compliance violations
  • Late payment caps at $50
  • Eliminating driver’s license suspensions for non-driving violations

On November 15 residents will be able to:

  • Create a 6-month payment plan, lower down payments, and extend payment deadlines if experiencing hardship
  • A 24-hour extension will be available to anyone after getting booted

The reforms are meant to address vehicle ticket debt bankruptcies, give residents a reasonable options for payment, and stop “balancing the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it,” Lightfoot said in a statement in July.

In the next few weeks there will be a debt forgiveness program focused on City Sticker compliance and ticket debt. The first step will be to make sure all residents have stickers and then offer debt forgiveness to those with previously issued tickets a fresh start.

At least two-thirds of the county’s bankruptcies include vehicle debt to the city, said the mayor’s office. The fines and fees, as they exist now, are “detrimental.”

“Unpaid debt should never prevent people from driving, working or living their lives,” said Illinois Senator Omar Aquino, 2nd District in a statement earlier this summer. “This is an important step toward ending aggressive ticketing and collections, especially the suspension of driver’s licenses over unpaid debt.”