John Oliver took on fines for municipal violations and how they disproportionately harm the poor and minorities on "Last Week Tonight."
"We have all committed municipal violations, and if you've never gotten a ticket for one, congratulations on not getting caught," he said on Sunday.
What can start out as a small fine for speeding or not wearing a seatbelt quickly balloons when municipalities tack on surcharges and fees. And when offenders can't immediately pay them, they can have their license suspended, making it difficult for them to continue working.
"Most Americans drive to work, and if you can't do that, you've got a problem," he said. "In New Jersey, a survey of low-income drivers who had their license suspended found that 64 percent had lost their jobs as a result, which doesn't help anyone. You need them to pay their fine, but you're taking away their means of paying it."
Some municipalities pass off enforcement to private companies, which charge their own fees, making it impossible for some to pay off their tickets.
"Let's be clear, no one is saying people who break the law shouldn't be punished," Oliver said. "This isn't about being soft on crime," but having fines people can reasonably pay off. "Not only should municipalities not be balancing their books on the backs of their most vulnerable citizens, but we cannot have a system where committing a minor violation can end up putting you in [jail]."