Last week the House was all set to routinely pass a bill that would raise traffic fines – infractions like speeding, failure to stop for a red light, uninspected motor vehicle and so on – by 10 percent.

Rep. Lois Snowe-Mello, R-Poland, had a role in stopping that from happening.

Earlier this session the bill came out of the Criminal Justice Committee with a unanimous ought to pass recommendation, which usually means it’s virtually a done deal on the House and Senate floor. But when the bill came up, Snowe-Mello stood up and said she could not support LD 1186. “The increase would be far too much. Many folks back home would be severely strapped to pay their fines. … This is not the time to add any more increases on fines.”

A debate began. Soon the unanimous ought to pass recommendation was rejected.

Snowe-Mello explained that as a member of the Criminal Justice Committee, she voted in committee to increase traffic fines by 10 percent and give that money to the county jails. Meanwhile, she said, the state’s judicial system doubled the fines, something it can do without approval from legislator. The committee was not aware that was happening, she said.

Snowe-Mello said she did not want to see them go up another 10 percent. “Enough is enough. We’re increasing fees, fines, everywhere. We’ve got to think about this.”

Why are fines going up?

According to State Court Administrator Ted Glessner, traffic fines haven’t exactly doubled, but are going up significantly. Some fines went up on May 1, others will go up on July 1.

Examples of the hikes: speeding 15 to 19 miles over the limit was a fine of $124, the new fine is $172. The fine for failure to stop for a stop sign is going up from $93 to $120.

It’s the job of Maine’s chief justice to review fines occasionally to ensure they are high enough to deter people from breaking laws, Glessner said. After comparing Maine’s fines with other states, Justice Leigh Saufley decided to hike virtually all of them, something that hasn’t been done in 10 years, he said.

Higher fines don’t benefit the courts, Glessner added. “They go to the state General Fund.”


Anti-spam, junior license bills signed

Gov. John Baldacci must be wearing out his “signing bill into law” pen. The count of bills passed and signed into law is 350 and rising. This week, tax reform and health care reform are expected to be voted on.

On Wednesday Baldacci penned two more into law, one to create a three-step intermediate license for young drivers, the other to combat Internet junk mail, or spam.

Rep. Al Goodwin, D-Pembroke, has tried twice before to get this law passed, but it got the attention of Internet company lobbyists who descended on Augusta and the bill was shot down. This year, his LD 255 passed. It aims to curtail unsolicited e-mails by requiring all e-mails to have a valid return address. The idea is to give recipients the ability to say “remove me from your list.” Similar legislation has passed in 30 other states.

The law will take affect sometime in September, 90 days after lawmakers adjourn.

Quote of the week:

“There’s a rumor that all our work is done and we can go home tomorrow. That is false.” – House Speaker Patrick Colwell, who told legislators Tuesday that adjournment will not be before May 30. The target date is now June 6.

– Bonnie Washuk is the Sun Journal State House reporter.

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