Donating to worthy causes should be alternative to parking fines

Published 5:05 am Friday, January 31, 2020


The Advocate-Messenger

A proposed bill in Kentucky would allow local governments to replace parking fines with donations, and could be an integral tool to helping some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. 

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State Rep. McKenzie Cantrell, D-Louisville, introduced House Bill 269, which states, “any local government electing to enforce parking ordinances as civil violations pursuant to KRS 82.605 may elect to receive goods, either in whole or in part, in lieu of those civil violation fines for donation to a nonprofit, charitable or service organization for projects or programs that serve a public purpose, or to projects or programs sponsored or otherwise operated by local governments that serve a public purpose.”

Local governments would need to adopt an ordinance to take advantage of the change. In the ordinances, local governments could determine if donations could cover part or all of the fines, what fines would be allowed to be covered by donations and what nonprofit or charity organizations could benefit from the fines. 

In a state where many people and families are unsure from where their next meal will come, local governments could play a critical role in supporting food banks with these “food for fines” donations. 

Of course, the donations don’t have to be limited to food donations. Some cities have asked for things like new or gently-used winter wear (coats, hats, gloves, etc.), items for the local animal shelter or even toy donations in lieu of fines. 

According to an NPR story from 2015, many cities are already operating fine-forgiveness programs. 

Neighboring Lexington adopted a Food for Fines program in 2014. As part of that program, 10 cans would take $15 off a person’s parking ticket fine. According to the NPR article, the program collected more than 6,000 cans of donated food in 2013. That program was still going strong in 2019. 

A similar program in Albany, New York, collected a ton and a half of food — enough for 5,000 meals. 

Fine forgiveness programs are even picking up in some of the nation’s largest cities.

In October 2019, Las Vegas allowed people to pay their parking tickets with food donations. In that scenario, the program only waived fines accrued in a one-month window from Oct. 16 to Nov. 16, 2019, and the donations went to help those in need during the holiday season. Earlier that year, the city waived parking ticket fines in exchange for school supplies. Those occasional charitable donations in place of parking fines have been happening there since 2016. 

Libraries have been conducting fine forgiveness programs for years and have found it a positive way to remind people to return their books on time while helping nonprofits in the community. 

An initiative like this turns something negative — getting a parking ticket — into an opportunity to make a positive impact in the community. 

While cities might see some decline in revenue from parking tickets, the benefit to the community would still be great, providing much-needed resources to low-income and at-risk families. 

The programs wouldn’t have to run year-round; they could be operated during the winter months, when the need is greater, or in part of the year when donations are at their lowest. 

These programs would fill a need that touches every community in the commonwealth. They can help address things like food insecurity, lack of school supplies, access to decent and weather-appropriate clothing and more. 

Making these efforts legal across the state will mean more communities can operate these programs without weeding through the red tape local governments usually face. 

This law would at least create an avenue for cities to make informed decisions about how these programs could positively impact their communities. 

We would love to see every community in Kentucky operate some form of these fine-forgiveness programs. This legislation would make that possible.