Politicians have a way of spinning any story and any bill as a way to help and save the people. But a recent story from the effort to decriminalize traffic tickets in Nevada provided a rather robust sob story to try and support their thinking.
They quoted a public defender who said that “for the people I represent, [a criminal ticket] could ruin their whole lives…you get a 500 dollar ticket, you’re living paycheck to paycheck and you can’t pay it. So you don’t go to court because you’re like, ‘I don’t want to go to jail.’ Then you get a bench warrant, and you get picked up on your bench warrant and you go to jail.”
The average reader might say to themselves, Wow, that sounds really bad. We should really step in to help those people. And that is what the politicians want you to think. They get reelected by appearing to solve problems, even if those problems are mostly exaggerations and excuses. But a critical reading of the above claim finds many dubious assertions that typically lie beneath liberal sob stories.
The NBA playoffs remind me that if a single blown call by a referee ruins your season, it was pretty fragile to begin with. Likewise, if a single ticket ruins a person’s life then perhaps they weren’t making sound decisions in the first place. If I knew I couldn’t afford a ticket I would make sure not to do anything warranting a ticket. That might mean taking the bus to work if I can’t repair my car, but that is what responsible adults do.
If I did get a ticket I would go into my emergency fund to pay it. This is something that most Americans should have but don’t. You don’t have to be financial guru Dave Ramsey to realize that having a bit set aside for unexpected medical expenses or a ticket is important. It’s hard to do mostly because Americans would rather spend than save, but with discipline even the poorest can have money set aside for a rainy day.
Assuming I don’t have the money, there are still options: friends and family might provide me a loan; I could ask my church; or in the case of my rather expensive root canal and crown, the person can get a private loan. I paid off that loan just a few months ago using my tax return. That unexpected expense was several times larger than 500 dollars but it certainly didn’t ruin my life.
I would never consider just avoiding court. I did something like that in the 7th grade, when I didn’t want to get cut from the basketball team in person so I skipped the last practice. Needless to say, as an adult I have a bit more responsibility now to avoid court and ignore a ticket against me.
In short, this sob story used to justify this law is assuming people are helpless without government. And it is making excuses for somebody who likely drove recklessly, failed to take responsibility for their life and plan for unexpected emergencies, and then acted like a seventh grader and just hoped the bench warrant for an unpaid ticket never comes back to haunt them. And then we are supposed to feel sorry for these people.
There are corrupt cops out there and unfair practices. But if your life is constantly racked by perfect storms of bad luck, perhaps you just have a crappy boat. Politicians shouldn’t assume they are helpless and make excuses for them, or create stories in support of legislation to lessen the consequences.