Over at Dallas Sidebar, former Dallas District and 5th Court of Appeals Judge Ron Chapman places part of the blame on the Legislature for enacting huge surcharges on tickets for DWIs and people driving without a license, disingenuously dubbed the "Driver Responsibility Program." IMO it should have been called the Legislative Irresponsibility Program. Said Chapman:
The Legislature is to blame for the huge number of DWLS prisoners, thanks to the ridiculous "$3,000 driver's licenses" required of those convicted of DWLS or DWI. What indigent defendant can afford that? They're just going to continue to drive without a license and fill up our jail. ....The massive fee was created in 2003 as part of the Lege's response to that year's massive budget crunch, and it's estimated to raise $3 million per week in revenue. According to defense counsel who handle these cases, most people who receive the fine don't know their license was suspended in the first place.
Texas' "Driver Responsibility Program" is a great example of law driven by revenue maximization instead of public safety. Half of the money from these large fines go straight into the general revenue fund, the Legislative Budget Board told the House Appropriations Criminal Justice Subcommittee last week. DPS takes an administration fee, and the rest goes to the state's trauma care fund.
Here's the rub: Most people don't pay, so we actually have MORE people driving around with suspended licenses in Texas. The overall collection rate for the surcharge has only been 28%; the "compliance" rate was 33% (the difference being people who made a commitment to pay but didn't). Those who can't pay can't renew their license, but most, obviously still continue to drive.
LBB recommended a reduction in surcharges, as well as allowing reinstatement of installment plans after non-payment and periodic amnesty programs. I hope somebody at the Lege will have the guts to propose that, but I'm afraid the Legislature so far doesn't seem to be in the mood for repealing fees. On this one, though, they should make an exception. It's just a bad law.