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Petitioners back plan for statewide ballot question to "Stop the Shakedowns"

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MOUNTAIN VIEW -

The small town of Mountain View near Lakeside Amusement Park in Jefferson County is known for collecting a lot of speeding tickets. In recent years, court fines have topped a half million dollars.  That's roughly half the town's annual revenue and enough to fully fund their disproportionately large police force (10 officers for a population of 600 residents.)

Tony Clark is one of a handful of motorists waiting around for an afternoon court appearance for getting a speeding ticket here.

"I heard about the reputation, and in my case I don't believe I was set up," Clark says.

As he's waiting, petitioners wearing neon t-shirts tell him about their idea for a statewide ballot question that would require court fines to be paid to charity.  They chose Mountain View as the starting point for their signature gathering efforts because of the town's reputation as a speed trap.

"I don't think it's any secret that we know that Mountain View does police for profit," says petitioner Regan Benson. 

The official title of their ballot question is the "Disposition of Government Fines, Surcharges and Forfeitures." However, their political campaign has more descriptive title, Stop the Shakedowns.

"We strongly believe that it should be that person's choice to send that fine to a charity of their choice," Benson says.

The Ballot initiative is the brainchild of former businessman Steve Kerbel. He believes the proposal will limit abuses of government power by eliminating the financial incentive to fine the public.

"When you think about it, there's a conflict of interest when related entities make the laws, enforce those laws and then get to keep the money when they enforce the laws," Kerbel says. "So, what this does is it removes that conflict of interest."

State government alone collects hundreds of millions of dollars this way.  As part of Kerbel's petition application, lawyers from the State Legislature calculated just how much each department collects annually through fines, penalties and forfeitures.

"They said in 2019 they're planning on taking $256 million from the people of Colorado for penalties," Kerbel said. "Now, that's a lot of money, but what I find really interesting is they also plan to take $322 million the very next year."

If the ballot question passes, it would repeal and/or replace 23 existing state laws and require any future fines be paid as restitution to the victim or victims of a crime. In the absence of a victim, the money would be donated to charity.

"Just a pure guess, but let's say instead of $250 million, it's $175 million because they can't keep the money so they lose the incentive," Kerbel said.  "But that $175 million going to charity is going to make a lot safer state."

While the campaign is just getting started, the volunteers say public response has been very positive.

"There are very few people who tell us no," says Benson. "The ones that are telling us no are government employees."

Tony Clark, who is waiting to pay his speeding ticket, supports the idea. He's disappointed by what he sees as very little benefit from recreational marijuana taxes for state school system.

"We're still seeing district closing, we're still seeing teachers aren't getting raises but the people above the teachers are getting raises," says Clark. 

"I can't personally do anything about that, but would love to have my chance to do something about where my money for my ticket goes."

The campaign needs to submit nearly 100,000 valid signatures to Colorado Secretary of State's Office by March 28 in order to be approved for the ballot.  

Kerbel says since he began the campaign last year, people from six states (Washington, Illinois, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, California and Missouri) as well as Canada and Australia have reached out to learn how to propose similar measures in their communities.

CLICK HERE to read the full ballot language

CLICK HERE for the fiscal impact statement from the state of Colorado

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