By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |

The state House this afternoon voted 86 to 1 to approve a bill that would let New Orleans Traffic Court charge higher fees even though its budget has ballooned recently.

The legislator who sponsored the bill and one of the court’s judges gave different reasons why the bill – and the additional money – is needed. The increased revenue, about $600,000 a year, would feed into the court’s judicial-expense fund, a rarely monitored kitty that, among other things, has been tapped to provide judges with luxury cars.

House Bill 52, sponsored by state Rep. Reed Henderson, D-Violet, would add up to $30 to the fees for those who plead guilty, enter a no-contest plea or are convicted.

Henderson told The Lens on Monday that the bill came about because the city of New Orleans might cut the court’s budget as a cost-saving move. Traffic Court Judge Mark Shea said that wasn’t true.

Focusing on a different rationale, Henderson told the House today that the bill is designed to bring the New Orleans fees into line with other traffic courts in the state.

“They’re operating right now at about a million-dollar deficit because they’re only at $10,” Henderson said. “They only have 70,000 cases a year which generates $700,000, they get about another $2.5 million a year from contempt of court which brings it to about $3.2 million, they’re short about another $1 million a year which they’re getting from the City of New Orleans. It’s as simple as that, really. Instead of having the citizens pay for it, it should be paid for by the people that are getting the tickets.”

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 bill will now move to the state Senate.