What indeed? That's more than 10% of El Paso County's entire population!
"When we compared Austin, same story," said Shapleigh, "11% of Austin has outstanding arrest warrants. How did that happen?"
OMG - 11% of Austin has outstanding warrants! That's not just overcriminalized, that's the kind of bizarro figures one expects to hear in true totalitarian states. (The column includes an excellent chart showing which offenses have fees so high that many drivers simply can't pay.) Shapleigh gives the insider story of how that happened in 2003:
In 2003, on the House floor, Rep. Diane Delisi told Texans that the “Driver Responsibility” bill was needed "to improve driver’s behavior." Everyone in Austin knew that the real story was money. After 9/11, Texans quit buying. Sales tax revenues dropped so much that Texas now had a $10 billion budget deficit. Rather than raise taxes, Republicans cut taxes on the wealthiest Texans, cut programs like CHIP, then shifted fees, tuition and tickets to low and middle income Texans.Sen. Shapleigh is asking Sen. John Carona who chairs the Texas Senate Transportation Committee to help fix the problem in 2009. Concluded Shapleigh: "Today, our own tax system uses the threat of prison to collect trauma care money. Working on the chain gang makes it awfully hard to pay for a ticket."
During debate, a study of the bill based on New Jersey’s Act showed exactly who would pay the freight—low-income citizens. To make the bill more popular, ticket revenue was tied to trauma care.
At the time, Senator John Whitmire and others said, "Watch out—here comes the ‘chain gang.'” For the first time, fees, tickets and tuition paid for sizable chunk of the Texas budget. Under the bill, fees escalate dramatically. Theoretically, after three tickets, a driver can owe $3,000 and more, depending on the offense.
And if you can’t pay, you go to jail.
And that is exactly what happened. Nearly one in ten Texans can’t pay: students, single mothers, working families, essentially low and even middle income Texans whose income can’t keep up with gas, insurance, taxes and tickets too.
Good job, Sen. Shapleigh, that was one of the best communiques from a politician on an important, underpublicized topic that I've seen in many moons.
IMO every Texas media outlet should localize this story. It's a great hook: What percentage of your town's population are wanted outlaws? Just be sure to explain the cause is that Texas criminalizes too many things too punitively, not that all these folks are bad people.