Lawmakers have responded to stories published last year by Investigative Post on the heavy-handed way the state and City of Buffalo enforced traffic laws and punished drivers who failed to pay fines.
In February 2019, Marsha McLeod reported that the city, in an effort to generate revenue, was aggressively enforcing traffic laws and had imposed 13 new fees and fines that drove up the cost of paying off their tickets.
(Investigative Post readers subsequently selected the report as the best story of 2019.)
In it, McLeod wrote:
The city’s strategy is costing drivers a lot of money, and, in some cases, their driver’s license. Black and Latino drivers, whose neighborhoods have been targeted for traffic enforcement, appear to be hit the hardest, both in fines and loss of licenses.
Investigative Post followed up in May 2019 with a story that reported the state suspends the driver’s licenses of some half-million state residents annually, including an estimated 26,000 in Erie County. Most lose their license because for failure to pay traffic tickets.
According to McLeod’s report:
The laws are making criminals out of tens of thousands of residents and straining court systems; yet in the case of debt-related suspensions, several experts said they provide little to no public safety benefit.
Both stories also aired on WGRZ, Investigative Post’s television partner.
Lawmakers in recent weeks acted to take some of the string out of their policies.
1/2 Today, the New York State Senate joined the Assembly in passing legislation that would end driver’s license suspensions over unpaid traffic tickets. It would also reinstate the licenses of people who are currently suspended over ticket debt. https://t.co/uowfoR5Rne
— Marsha McLeod (@marshamcleod_TO) July 22, 2020
Meanwhile, Mayor Byron Brown in recent months amended two city policies:
- Lower-income drivers can now appeal to the Buffalo Traffic Violations Agency for a reduction in their fines based on their income.
- Motorists ticketed for correctable equipment violations will have seven days, rather than 24 hours, to get the necessary repairs made.
State lawmakers first proposed changes after the Investigative Post report in May. Advocacy statewide was driven by the Fines and Fees Justice Center. The push for changes in city policy was led by the Fair Fines and Fees Coalition.
McLeod worked for Investigative Post as a reporting fellow from September 2018 to June of last year after graduating from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is now a fellow at the Globe and Mail in Toronto.