By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |
Like a driver that didn’t even touch the brakes before blowing a red light, a bill that would allow New Orleans Traffic Court to raise its costs from $10 to $30 passed through the Senate Finance Committee this afternoon with no discussion and without a word from state Rep. Reed Henderson, D-Violet, who proposed the bill in the state House and was not present for the committee hearing.
The bill coincides with a move by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to move contested traffic camera tickets to Traffic Court from Civil Court, which is likely to raise millions more dollars for Traffic Court.
Henderson told The Lens earlier this month that the bill came about because the city of New Orleans might cut the court’s budget as a cost-saving move, but Traffic Court Judge Mark Shea said that wasn’t true, and a representative from the city said such a move will not be discussed until September at the earliest.
Since then, Henderson has focused on a different rationale for the bill: making those who got the tickets pay for the wages of Traffic Court’s four judges and 84 staff, instead of taxpayers.
Last year, the court ended with a significant surplus because of record revenues, bringing in $14 million. Of those $14 million, Traffic Court used $4 million against operating costs in the current year, returned $5.5 million to the city’s general fund, and disbursed $4.5 million among various criminal justice agencies such as the District Attorney’s Office, said Traffic Court Judge Robert Jones, who represented the court at the City Council’s Nov. 9 budget hearing.
The budget for the court’s judicial-expense fund receives no public hearing. Instead, it is approved in a meeting of the four Traffic Court judges. It includes money for take-home vehicles such as two Mercury Grand Marquis, a Ford Crown Victoria and two Ford Expeditions for three of the four judges, the clerk of court, and the judicial administrator, records show.
The bill moves to the Senate floor for a vote and then, if it passes without any amendments that would need House assent, to the Governor’s Office for signature.