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State's court fees to go up

Governor signs bill opposed by fellow Republicans to raise funds to fix, replace aging courthouses.

September 27, 2008|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger agreed Friday to raise the price of parking tickets, traffic school, criminal convictions and civil court filings to pay for the repair and replacement of dozens of the state's decrepit, overcrowded courthouses.

The court fee hikes will include a new $30 penalty imposed on misdemeanor and felony criminal convictions. The state fee for attending traffic school will rise $25, and $3 will be added to parking tickets. A new $35 penalty will be imposed on criminal convictions for infractions, which include some traffic violations.

The governor's signature on a bill widely opposed by his fellow Republicans in the Legislature is expected to raise $5 billion for the improvement or replacement of the worst 40 of California's 450 court facilities. The state will borrow against the fees for projects including the $122-million construction of a courthouse for southeast Los Angeles County.

"Improving our state's aging court facilities has been an integral part of my promise to Californians to rebuild our infrastructure and increase public safety," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

Many Republican lawmakers said the plan would increase pressure on an already burdened state treasury while hurting average Californians.

State Sen. Dick Ackerman (R-Irvine) supports efforts to repair the court buildings, but not the financing mechanism in the measure, SB 1407.

"The responsibility for building courts should be on everybody," he said. "This makes just the people who pay tickets, who are not serious criminals, have to pay the lion's share. That's not good policy."

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George sought the money after declaring the state's courthouses to be in "a state of crisis." On Friday, he called the governor's action a major step forward for the courts.

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) wrote the bill, noting that 90% of courthouses need improvements. Because of the lack of courtroom space, 23 court facilities are in trailers, one quarter of courtrooms have no room for a jury and 41% have no way to bring in-custody defendants into courtrooms without using public hallways.

Other bills signed by the governor Friday include:

A measure creating a Green Collar Jobs Council to develop a comprehensive approach to the needs of California's workforce associated with its budding "green" economy. AB 3018 was written by Assemblyman Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles).

A bill authorizing the creation of the California Gold Star Family license plate. The legislation paves the way for families who have lost loved ones in wars to obtain license plates honoring the sacrifices their families have endured. SB 1455 was written by Sen. Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto).

A measure that allows drivers who fuel their vehicles with restaurant kitchen grease to skip most of a $300 fee the law had previously required of anyone who hauled used vegetable oil or other grease away from an eatery. Veggie-oil drivers will now have to pay $75 for a license under AB 1846, written by Assemblyman Anthony Adams (R-Hesperia).

The governor vetoed 27 bills Friday, including a measure requiring commercial exhibits of plasticized cadavers to get permission from the deceased's family. He said in a statement that lawmakers' late approval of a budget forced him to sign only the highest-priority bills.

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patrick.mcgreevy @latimes.com

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Times staff writers Evan Halper and Nancy Vogel contributed to this report.

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