Lawrence City Commission approves amnesty program for people with outstanding parking fines; it could begin this fall

photo by: Screenshot from the City of Lawrence's Youtube page

Brad Harrell, the city’s parking manager is pictured on May 21, 2024, at the Lawrence City Commission meeting at City Hall.

The Lawrence City Commission approved an amnesty program on Tuesday that will provide relief to residents who have outstanding parking fines, and it could launch sometime this fall.

Commissioners voted 4-0 on Tuesday, with Commissioner Amber Sellers absent, to approve the program, which is part of a larger strategy to decriminalize overdue parking tickets and develop better strategies for parking enforcement in the downtown area.

The meeting’s agenda materials spelled out how the plan is expected to function. When the amnesty program goes into effect, residents with unpaid parking tickets in the city will have one month to enter into the program, which would reduce the amount of parking fines they owed by half. Then, half of the money that’s collected for overdue fines will be donated to the Douglas County Community Foundation, which will use it to award grants to local nonprofits that run food pantries and other similar food-related programs.

Brad Harrell, the city’s parking manager, said during Tuesday’s meeting that the city estimates there are $850,000 in outstanding fines. If just 15% of people who have unpaid fines participated in the program, he said, that would be about $120,000 in outstanding fines — half of that would be forgiven, and that would leave about $30,000 each for the city and DCCF. He said the city optimistically expects 30% of people with unpaid fines to participate.

Harrell told the Journal-World after the meeting that he expects the amnesty program to launch in the fall before the holiday season begins. He said the city will now start working on the practical details of the program and a communication plan to inform residents about how to use it.

The commissioners heard, but did not take action on, additional recommendations for future changes to the city’s parking enforcement from Harrell and city-hired consultant Allison von Ebers of Dixon Resources Unlimited. Those changes could include no longer processing parking ticket violations in municipal court. Currently, if violators fail to appear in court to address their fines, they could be arrested.

The presentation from Harrell and von Ebers did touch briefly on the possibility of eventually introducing parking boots. As the Journal-World reported, one of the proposed set of parking changes presented to the commission would involve placing a parking boot on the wheel of a vehicle, if that vehicle is illegally parked and has at least three unpaid parking violations that are past due by 60 days or more.

But Harrell said that if the city were to ever start using parking boots, he envisioned them as a last resort after other attempts to resolve the violations had failed.

“The primary reason for the what we’ll call extensive communication effort related to these notices is because the last thing that the parking division or the City of Lawrence wants to do is to ever put a boot on a vehicle in downtown Lawrence,” Harrell said. “Our primary goal is to tell you the reason why you received the violations, how you can appeal the violation, how you can settle the violation, long before, as a last resort, we need to put a boot on the vehicle.”

Additional changes to the city’s parking policy will be considered at future meetings.


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