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“Hidden fees” could be reduced

Alice Keeler
Flickr / Creative Commons

Known as a civil assessment, the fee is imposed on hundreds of thousands of Californians as a penalty for failing to pay a ticket by a deadline or failing to appear in court on a charge.

The vast majority of the fees are issued in traffic or infraction cases. A fine can be imposed each time a deadline is missed.

A $300 maximum fine can be added for violations as minor as jaywalking and on tickets that originally cost as little as $35, according to the Debt Free Justice California, a coalition of organizations, policy experts and legal advocates opposing "unfair ways the criminal legal system drains wealth from vulnerable communities."

The state has one of the highest late fees in the nation, the coalition says. The group says the fees trap low-income Californians in a cycle of ballooning debt with the courts.

Money collected from the extra charges bolsters court coffers, generating nearly 100 million dollars annually, and the courts retain more than half.

Sunni M. Khalid is a veteran of more than 40 years in journalism, having worked has in print, radio, television, and web journalism.