A 3 to 2 vote vs. reality

John Taylor: December 05, 20070 Comments

Back in the days of Charles Dickens, people were tossed into prison for unpaid debts. And, illogically, they were forced to stay there until somebody came up with the money.

Just how many people do you think are being held in the Fresno County Jail for an unpaid traffic ticket? I'm thinking not a one. However, the possibility of filling an overcrowded jail with debtors was a slice of one argument used Tuesday when the Fresno County Board of Supervisors rejected, by a 3 to 2 vote, a $2 hike for every $10 fine incurred for things like running a red light, with the revenue to be used to offset unpaid pediatric trauma care costs.

Roughly a dozen other California counties have approved the hike, under SB 1773. The law was introduced by then-state Sen. Richard Alarcon in memory of his son, Richie, who was killed by a drunken driver.

Voting "no" were Supervisors Judy Case (a nurse), Henry Perea (a former hospital employee) and Bob Waterston (a former paramedic). Supporting the hike were Supervisors Susan Anderson and Phil Larson.

Case said hikes in fines could hurt the county in other ways, mentioning the jail population. People are already tapped at a high level, she said, and there could be untoward effects on a "community good."  Perea said the public is already hurting financially, is getting fatigued with these tactics which he described as "a back door way to get into people's pocketbooks."

Larson said the way to avoid the problem of paying fines is not to break the law.

Community Medical Centers and its doctors, who care for Fresno County's pediatric trauma patients (and many others), stood to recoup perhaps as much as $300,000 a year if the measure had passed.  Fresno County's emergency medical services division would have received 17% of all funds raised.

Last year, Community provided nearly $122 million in uncompensated care. Good thing the medical staff understands "community good" and doesn't get fatigued.