On Thursday, a bill that would decriminalize jaywalking in California was formally introduced in the Assembly.
Assembly Bill 1238, authored by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), would make it legal to cross a street when not at a crosswalk or against the crosswalk light when it is not an “immediate hazard” to do so. Amendments to AB 1238, also known as the Freedom to Walk Act, are expected, as lawmakers are currently working with law enforcement officials to better define what constitutes an “immediate hazard.”
In addition, all fines associated with jaywalking, which can reach into the hundreds of dollars in some cities and counties, would be eliminated.
Assemblyman Ting wrote AB 1238 because of the high costs of fines that jaywalking can bring, unfairly affecting poorer people.
“Whether it’s someone’s life or the hundreds of dollars in fines, the cost is too much for a relatively minor infraction,” said Assemblyman Ting in a statement on Thursday. “It’s time to reconsider how we use our law enforcement resources and whether our jaywalking laws really do protect pedestrians.”
Many other lawmakers and groups also noted how minorities are adversely affected by jaywalking tickets.
Supporters, such as the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, say the bill is necessary.
“Jaywalking is arbitrarily and unfairly enforced across California,” said Rio Scharf of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area on Thursday. “Citations are disproportionately given to low-income people of color, and enforcement sometimes leads to fatal encounters with police. When people are charged with jaywalking, the result is hundreds of dollars in fines and fees they cannot afford, and, in some counties, warrants and arrests for people who do not pay or appear in court.”
A September 2020 report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area found that black adults in California are up to 9.7 times more likely to receive a citation for local infractions such as jaywalking than white Californians.
Amendments, further debate expected due to broadness of current wording in bill
While there has been no opposition against the bill as of Thursday, many have noted that despite jaywalking being a victimless crime, there are safety considerations to consider.
“This is why the police are working with lawmakers on the wording,” lawyer Mark Roth, who has consulted on jaywalking offenses before, explained to the Globe. “Fining someone for walking across the middle of a deserted street is one thing, while some person trying to cross Frogger-style across a busy street with moving cars is another. Pedestrians have the right of way, but when common sense and safety come into play then it becomes complicated.”
“I think a lot of lawmakers will wait and see what the final wording of is in the bill before making a judgement. Who knows, some may add things such as people wearing headphones being a factor in jaywalking, accidental crossings, or a host of other variables. I mean, the bill isn’t even complete yet.”
“So we’re going to see a lot of those things pop up as the bill heads later into the year, because when it comes to decriminalizing something like this, there will be a lot of arguments over little things.”
AB 1238 is expected to be sent to an Assembly Committee in the coming weeks.