Lawrence City Commission approves parking amnesty program to help people pay tickets

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Lawrence city commissioners during their meeting Tuesday approved a program intended to help people pay off outstanding parking citations and avoid a trip to Lawrence Municipal Court.

The city has about 30,000 unpaid parking violations equivalent to about $800,000, according to the meeting agenda materials. Under current processes, the city files criminal complaints in municipal court to compel people to pay for outstanding violations. It’s resource-intensive for the court, and if people miss their court dates, they can face arrest warrants.

The parking citation amnesty program will reduce the total amount in fees that a person owes by 50%. Of the amount they do pay, half will stay with the city and half will be donated to the Douglas County Community Foundation to be used toward grants for organizations fighting food insecurity.

Assuming about 15% of people with outstanding violations choose to participate in the amnesty program, that would be equivalent to about $120,000 in fees owed to the city. The city would waive 50% of outstanding fees, retain 25% of the fees, and donate 25% — about $30,000 — to DCCF. The charity element is intended to encourage additional participation, according to the agenda item.

People who already have payment plans will not be eligible. But “Any non-adjudicated parking violation would be eligible for the amnesty program,” according to the agenda materials. “Consideration will be made for those individuals who have active warrants.”

The program will run for a month in the near future. The city will announce the dates beginning 30 days before the program starts. There could also be a second round of the amnesty program down the road.

Brad Harrell, parking manager for the City of Lawrence, speaks to Lawrence city commissioners during their May 21, 2024 meeting. (Screenshot)

Commissioner Brad Finkeldei asked about part of the plan that states that people who have active warrants for parking violations would be required to see the judge.

Lawrence Municipal Court Manager Vicki Stanwix said Judge Chris Kopecky is willing to work with people, but he does require them to come in and be added to the docket.

“He most likely will not require them to post the bond. He just wants to see them and talk to them and get get them current on their court date,” Stanwix said. “And then once they receive a new court date, then they can talk to the prosecutor about the amnesty program and get their fine reduced.”

Finkeldei said he thought the city should make sure the message is clear that the judge can give people time to pay their tickets.

“If all they see is ‘You’re required to see the judge,’ you’re gonna get very low compliance,” he said. Stanwix said she thought that was a good idea, and they don’t want people to think that if they come to court, they’re going to go to jail.

Commissioners approved the amnesty program on a 4-0 vote. Commissioner Amber Sellers was absent for a prior engagement.

There are other proposed changes in the first phase of the Parking Adjudication Strategic Plan that the city commission will consider at a later date. Some such changes include that people who have outstanding parking violations may be able to avoid municipal court, but they would have to pay late fees, and their vehicles could get immobilized, then impounded, for failure to pay citations.

In the second phase, the city would work with the state “to decriminalize all non-moving traffic violations within the city limits of Lawrence,” according to the meeting agenda. “This includes parking violations such as vehicles parked with expired tags, ADA parking violations, posted no parking, etc.”

Both phases will return to the Lawrence City Commission for consideration at later dates. Staff plans to bring phase 1 back to the commission this fall for approval, Brad Harrell, parking manager for the city, said via email Wednesday morning.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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