Drivers who skip payments accumulated from traffic violations could now face jail time in Waco.
McLennan County now has five jail cells reserved for those found guilty in Waco municipal court of Class C misdemeanors as the city aims to hold drivers more accountable.
The city and county are finalizing a one-year agreement for the county to house people at the McLennan County Jail who have been arrested on fine warrants issued by the city’s municipal court.
Municipal Judge Christopher Taylor said the “stay or pay” policy is a public safety initiative that provides consequences for breaking the law.
Currently, someone convicted of a Class C misdemeanor — including traffic offenses and minor assault or shoplifting cases — is required to pay the court a fine.
Most drivers pay that fine after making a promise to the judge they will pay a certain amount by a certain date, Taylor said. If that individual doesn’t pay, an arrest warrant is issued, and the person can be re-arrested. After a few hours in jail, the individual goes before the judge again, promising to pay the penalty fees.
Taylor said that’s about to change.
Once a person has not made payments and is arrested again, he said, the individual will be required to pay in full the remaining amount right then, or sit behind bars for time credit.
“Over the years the public has become aware that essentially there is no ultimate consequence for failing to comply with the order of the court,” Taylor said. “There’s a trickle-down impact on public safety. Tickets become less meaningful, so then does stop signs and speed limits, and traffic safety becomes less meaningful. It’s a problem in Waco. We need more accountability.”
McLennan County Sheriff’s Office Capt. John Kolinek said the city will cover the cost for housing them at the McLennan County Jail.
The city will pay the county $50 a day per inmate, which could be as much as $91,250 a year for the five jail cells.
“Until the word gets out and until people start to realize there is a consequence now, I think we’re going to fill constantly the space available the county gives us,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he hasn’t decided what amount he will consider equivalent to a day behind bars. Legally, it has to be at least $50, but he’s leaning toward it counting as $100.
Most traffic violations include a $200 fine, he said, adding that when most people get pulled over it’s typically for multiple violations, including speeding and not having a valid driver’s license or insurance.
The threat of jail time or immediate payment of the fine will hopefully make those more responsible when it comes to payments and court dates, he said.
Taylor said he’s accommodating to those who need assistance. He said he wants to help people not miss a payment, and he offers payment plans.
Taylor said he’s often been asked for a reduced payment plan or an extended deadline, and depending on the circumstances, he allows it. By law, he said, he can’t put anyone behind bars who is indigent or who can’t pay their fine without first giving them alternatives, such as community service.
Enforcing jail time or immediate payment after a second arrest also prevents an individual from accumulating charges and fines for things such as a failure to appear charge, which is a $500 fine.
Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said the idea started as a way to help residents by allowing them to sit out a payment from behind bars and not just accumulate additional fines that they can’t get out from under.
Duncan said he hopes the change encourages those financially able to take care of their payments or know they’ll face jail time.