Lafayette council OKs traffic amnesty period

Drivers have until June 30 to pay thousands of delinquent traffic camera and parking tickets without late penalties before the start of proposed stricter collection policy.

The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday voted 7-2 to approve the amnesty period.

The council discussed a stricter collection policy that calls for lawsuits to recover any past-due fines after the amnesty period is over, but a vote on the new collection policy was delayed pending further discussion of the details.

The council on Tuesday also moved forward a plan that could lead to bicycle and pedestrian paths along a new stretch of Ambassador Caffery Parkway in southern Lafayette Parish.

The amnesty period would apply to roughly 30,000 past-due traffic camera and parking tickets.

That’s about $2 million in fines that has gone uncollected, plus another $1 million in penalties for late payment, according to the figures from city-parish government.

City-parish attorney Mike Hebert said his office plans to begin pursuing lawsuits to recover delinquent fines as soon as the amnesty period ends, assuming the council approves the new collection policy.

The plan is to have contract attorneys handle large batches of the cases on contingency for a third of whatever money they win in court, Hebert said.

Voting in support of the amnesty program were councilmen Brandon Shelvin, Kevin Naquin, Jay Castille, Kenneth Boudreaux, Andy Naquin, Don Bertrand and Keith Patin.

Jared Bellard and William Theriot voted against it.

Their remarks focused not on the amnesty program itself but on questions of whether enough money will be gained in court to justify the legal fees associated with filing lawsuits for the past-due fines, most of which range from $125 to $400.

Hebert said city-parish government, because it is a government agency, does not have to pay court costs up front when filing a lawsuit and that he anticipates that most violators will be assessed court costs along with the past-due fine and late penalties.

Lafayette’s automated traffic camera enforcement program began in 2007. The cameras take pictures of the driver and license plate when a vehicle runs a red light or speeds through an intersection, and the alleged violator is mailed a citation.

The city’s parking and traffic camera tickets are civil violations, so drivers don’t face a revoked license, criminal fines or jail.

City-parish government now uses the “boot” immobilization device on drivers with delinquent parking fines, and delinquent traffic camera tickets can be turned over to a collection agency.

In other business, the council approved a measure that could pave the way for bicycle and pedestrian paths and a landscaped buffer along a new section of Ambassador Caffery Parkway from Verot School Road to Bonin Road.

The council voted 6-3 to pass a resolution by Bertrand that directs the City-Parish Planning, Zoning and Codes Department to develop a special zoning district for that stretch of Ambassador Caffery Parkway, which opened in 2010 and is largely undeveloped.

Proposed regulations in the district would require new businesses to be set back at least 55 feet on both sides of the road to make space for the buffer, buried utility lines, and bicycle and pedestrian paths.

Councilmen Andy Naquin, Bellard and Theriot opposed the setback provision.

“We are taking property that belongs to private individuals,” Theriot said.

Bertrand said the new stretch of road in southern Lafayette Parish offers a blank slate to develop an attractive corridor that offers safe options for walking and biking.

There is no money to construct the bicycle and pedestrian paths, but Bertrand said it is critical to set the space for those improvements aside before development starts.

Any regulations, setback provisions and zoning requirements in the area need further council approval before implementation.

Voting in favor of directing city-parish staff to develop the special zoning district were Bertrand, Castille, Boudreaux, Patin, Shelvin and Kevin Naquin.