On July 14, 2021, CalBike joined more than 90 others to send a letter to Senator Anthony J. Portantino, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, asking him to move the Freedom to Walk Act (AB 1238, Ting) forward. The bill, which will repeal California’s unjust jaywalking laws, is currently in the suspense file at the Appropriations Committee. Unless it comes off suspense, this crucial piece of legislation won’t get to the full Senate for a vote.
The Senate Appropriations Committee evaluates the budget implications of each bill. The committee appropriately passed one of CalBike’s other bills, the Bicycle Safety Stop (AB 122, Boerner Horvath), because allowing people on bikes to treat stop signs as yields will have little or no impact on the state budget. However, any bill with fiscal implications of $50,000 or more is automatically placed in suspense. The bill’s author and supporters advocate for it to come off suspense and get a committee vote. The committee, especially the Appropriations Chair, has the power of life or death over the bills that reach them. If a bill doesn’t come off suspense, it dies in Appropriations. That’s why it’s so crucial that the Chair should allow the Freedom to Walk Act to come off suspense and get a vote.
The letter to Senator Portantino, which was signed by California and national NGOs, and elected representatives from California communities, urges the fiscal committee to support the Act’s critical social implications, in light of the major hidden social costs of pretextual policing and racism.
How to correctly calculate the fiscal impact of ending jaywalking tickets
It might seem obvious that the Freedom to Walk Act will negatively impact California’s budget by removing a revenue source. However, the truth is more complex. Police don’t write a jaywalking ticket when someone in a wealthy suburb makes a mid-block crossing to visit a neighbor. People in disadvantaged neighborhoods are more likely to be ticketed for jaywalking, particularly because their communities are less likely to have adequate infrastructure.
Because of this, as we note in our letter, the dollar amount of fines levied for jaywalking doesn’t provide an accurate accounting of the fiscal impact of AB 1238. In fact, the Judicial Council of California estimates that less than 15% of the fines are collectible.
Besides, any consideration of the financial impact needs to offset the revenue from jaywalking tickets by the cost of police time to write the tickets and the cost of collection efforts. When you add those factors, jaywalking citations may be a net loss for the state.
Jaywalking tickets also create harms that are harder to quantify. If someone can’t pay the fine, the penalties for nonpayment can lead to cascading damages. The burden of this unnecessary debt is borne by both society and the state, as well as the individual and their family.
Jaywalking fines and penalties extend racist policies from the past, and it’s time for them to end
Black Californians are as much as four times more likely to be ticketed for jaywalking than their white neighbors. Jaywalking citations perpetuate a system of racial oppression that diminishes all of us without making our streets safer. Jaywalking citations, in effect, are one of the many ways our criminal justice system raises revenue on the backs of the most oppressed. This must end.
Ending unjust jaywalking laws is an essential step towards building a just and equitable California. CalBike and our allies ask the Senate Appropriations Committee to do the right thing and send the Freedom to Walk Act to the full Senate for a vote.