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Senate hears traffic fine bill

BISMARCK -- North Dakotans may soon see bigger fines for speeding and running through stoplights.

House Bill 1278 would allow North Dakota cities to double the fines for traffic violations. The House barely passed the proposal, which is now before the Senate Transportation Committee.

Bill sponsor Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Dickinson, said the city has seen a tremendous increase in traffic due to the oil boom. Many drivers run through stop signs and speed, she said.

"The dollar amount of the current fines is so minimal that it does not do enough to deter drivers," she told the committee on Friday.

The cost to write and process a ticket and to prosecute a violation far exceeds the cost of the fine, she said.

"The average property tax payer in the municipality, who is law abiding, is subsidizing the driver who chooses to break the law," Johnson said. "In essence, I am being taxed to subsidize the law breakers."

City and law enforcement officials from across the state also voiced their support for the bill.

"I believe the increased fees are warranted and necessary for the increased public safety within our cities," said Mike Reitan of the West Fargo Police Department. "If the voice of North Dakota is not to change the fees on a statewide basis, at least allow elected leaders to adjust fees to meet the traffic safety needs in their own communities."

Connie Sprynczynatyk of the North Dakota League of Cities said the organization asked for the bill to be introduced. Most of the state's fines haven't been changed since the 1950s, she said.

Concerned citizen Schurkey Swanke of Grand Forks said the bill encourages local government to perform traffic enforcement for profit.

"The intent of this bill is to attach larger udders to the citizens," he said.

Under the bill, cities would have the option to adjust their fees. Swanke, the only person to oppose the bill, said there is no need to promote a patchwork of non-standardized fines throughout the state.

The fault is the speed limit, not the motorists, he said.

"Fix the problem using proven engineering solutions rather than punishing and picking the pocket of the 'evil' motorists who disrespect the law," he said.

Johnson said the bill may look like a way for a city to obtain increased revenue, but she said the goal is to deter people from breaking the law since they aren't taking $20 fines seriously.

"Literally some of the heavy oil trucks are just zipping right through some of those smaller cities," she said.

Sen. Dave Nething, R-Jamestown, said increasing the points for an offense may be a good approach.

"Then they'd know they better slow down," he said.

The Senate Transportation Committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.