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City panel to review whether changes are needed to Chicago's fines, fees and collection practices

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 12/6/2018 John Byrne
a group of people looking at a phone © Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

City Clerk Anna Valencia is launching a group to consider whether Chicago’s fines, fees and collection practices need to be changed to help residents get out from under the sometimes crushing debt they can pile up for things such as late vehicle stickers or unpaid parking tickets.

The Chicago Fines, Fees & Access Collaborative will include eight aldermen, representatives of the city’s Budget, Finance and Police departments, among other city officials, plus various nonprofits, Valencia said in a news release.

The group will meet for the next six months to “review existing policies and provide recommendations to reform existing fines and fees schedules, payment plans structures, accessibility of information and processes, impact of penalties for nonpayment, role of private debt collectors, debt-based policies tied to employment opportunities and the process of enforcement of violations,” the release says.

It remains to be seen whether Valencia’s election-year move will amount to more than a report that gathers dust. A new mayor taking office in May might not make it a high priority to act on the recommendations of the sitting clerk, especially one as closely aligned with outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel as Valencia. The next mayor will be seeking ways to raise revenue to meet crushing pension obligations without resorting to tax increases, and targeted fines and fees are often seen as politically preferable.

“The City of Chicago needs revenue for its streets, services and schools, but it’s good for local government to take a pause and reflect on past policies that have been created over decades to ensure they are serving their intended purpose,” Valencia said in a news release.

Valencia has incentive to address the city fine policies. Criticism has been mounting on the city this year about the way drivers are fined for not renewing the city stickers on their cars on time, with late fees and parking tickets quickly spiraling into the hundreds of dollars. That’s a program administered by the clerk’s office, so it makes sense for Valencia to have an answer for voters about what she’s doing about it as she seeks re-election against challenger Patricia Horton.

And a ProPublica Illinois series this year detailed how unpaid parking and automated camera tickets, late fees and other penalties can quickly turn into an insurmountable pile of debt for Chicago’s working poor, threatening their livelihoods and forcing some to declare bankruptcy.

Twitter @_johnbyrne


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