Fines, fees are up

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Gas tax doubled

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

Illinois drivers will now be pay a heavier penalty if they’re caught using their phones without a hands-free device.
In fact, they will be paying more for violating all minor traffic offenses in the state, and even more if they fail to pay their fines – now termed assessments – promptly.
Drivers, smokers and vapers are also seeing their costs increase.
Fayette County Circuit Clerk said on Friday that the assessment for all minor traffic offenses, without a fine, is increasing from $120 to $164.
The assessment can be taken care of with a $164 payment by cash, cashier’s check, money order, online or by phone.
The circuit clerk’s office does not accept personal checks, and under new rules, the clerk’s office will no longer be able to take partial payments within the first 30 days.
“That’s not up to me,” Emerick said. “That’s another state rule.”
If an assessment is not paid within 30 days, a fine is tacked on and the amount increases to $251, and the ticket requires a court appearance. The statewide cap on fines for minor traffic offenses is $75.
“When they come into court, they can ask for supervision or make partial payments,” Emerick said.
“What we are going to do, I have started the process to have mail-in supervision, because at this point, you cannot get supervision unless you appear in court,” Emerick said. “You have to be admonished in court at least once.
“I have started the process to get state approval (for mail-in supervision) through the chief judge’s conference,” she said.
Failure to appear in court, according to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 556(a), will result in a fine being issued and it will be referred to Credit Collection Partners, increasing the amount to $326.30.
This applies to violations of the state’s cell phone law, which now states that it’s a violation to use a phone anytime the driver is on a roadway, even if they are stopped at an intersection, without a hands-free device.
The use of a phone without a hands-free device is also now a moving violation, and three violations within a year results in license suspension.
The new traffic laws also apply to tickets for driving up to 20 mph over the posted speed limit and failure to secure a child in a child-restraint system.
Also, Emerick said, a new state law requires that anyone not using a child-restraint system must appear in court.
“I have no control over any of this and neither does the police officer,” Emerick said.
“The best thing people can do is wear their seat belts, pay attention to the speed limits and stay off of their cell phones,” she said.
She said that this is supposedly a trial period, the new assessment and fine system being monitored in the coming months.
“There could be changes on Jan. 1, or even before that,” Emerick said.
The majority of the extra money collected through fines and assessments is going to the state.
Initially, the local law enforcement agency will receive an additional $3. If the assessment amount increases after 30 days, the local agency will get $12 more.
“That’s not much more money for putting your life on the line just for a petty traffic stop,” Emerick said.
The county, she said, will be getting less money.
The state, Emerick said, is “trying to be generic” with assessments for traffic offenses, and for felonies and felony DUI’s. Those amounts would increase if fines are added in court.
Another requirement going into effect on Jan. 1 is one that stipulates all traffic tickets going to a circuit clerk’s office are 8½ inches by 11 inches.
“We do have e-citations, and the system has been adjusted so that all e-citations coming to us are the right size,” said Emerick.
“We were one of the first going to have e-citations, and many counties around us still aren’t using it,” she said.
“I don’t even know if police officers in Fayette County know how lucky they are that we have e-citations,” Emerick said.
The changes in state law mean significant changes for Emerick’s office.
“This changes everything,” she said. “We’ve had to change our whole system – our whole way of collecting and our whole way of dispersing (funds).”
Fortunately, Emerick’s office is now using a program, Gavel, which is used to figure amounts owed.
With it, when a judge states that a specific schedule for an offender, the state’s attorney office can type in that schedule number, and the amount owed is automatically calculated, and it’s printed so the violator has copy he or she can leave the courtroom with, Emerick said.
With all of the changes, she said, “I feel like we’re well prepared.”
In addition to adjusting to the changes in her office, Emerick and one of her deputies, Becky McNally, “have gone to every police agency to explain the changes.”
She said that she has also had printed new traffic citation envelopes that explain to the offender the new assessment and fine system.
Also going into effect on Monday were increases in the state’s gas tax and vehicle registration fees.
The gas tax has been doubled, from 19 cents to 38 cents.
The registration fee for first division vehicles (autos) and Class B vehicles has been increased from $101 to $150.
For all other classes, the increase is $100.
The fee for a certificate of title has increased from $95 to $150, and for a certificate of title for a motor home, mini-motor home and van camper is now $250, up from $95.
Trailer fees have also been increased by $100.
The state tax on a pack of cigarettes is now $2.98, up from $1.98, and now, the legal smoking age is 21.
The state now has a 15-percent tax on e-cigarettes.
Illinois is the eighth state to tax vapor products.