The Senate voted Friday to revamp the troubled Texas Driver Responsibility Program, under which more than 1 million Texans have been unable or unwilling to pay stiff surcharges on top of their regular fines for driving violations.
Compromise legislation sent to the House would give judges discretion to lower the surcharges – which can run as high as $3,000 for a single driving-while-intoxicated conviction – and also bar the state from assessing surcharges against students and the indigent.
The bill by Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, would also allow drivers who are slapped with a surcharge to get credit for each year that they have no violations. It was approved, 23-5.
"This is a terrible program that used punitive fines to plug holes in the state budget," the senator said, noting that it became law in 2003 when the Legislature was trying to erase a $10 billion revenue shortfall.
Shapleigh said that of the 1.6 million Texas drivers who are being forced to pay the surcharges, nearly 1.1 million have not paid, and many can't afford to.
"Our founders never intended for debtors' prisons to substitute for an adequate tax system," he said, adding that most lawmakers "now recognize that this program has never worked and needs some fundamental changes."
Shapleigh originally proposed that the program be terminated. But opposition from Republican senators forced him to accept a compromise.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Senate would let judges reduce misnamed 'driver responsibility' fees
It's not nearly a far as I'd like to see them go, but the Texas Senate passed legislation this week to knock off some of the rough edges on Texas' so-called "driver responsibility fee," which has been a complete public policy bust. Reports the Dallas News ("Texas Senate votes to ease surcharges on DWI, other driving violations," April 18):