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):

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.


Anonymous said...

I have a son who is about to complete an 18 month probation for DWI. He is a college student and opted not to drive or start paying the DRS until he finishes the probation charges.

Does anyone know if this would be retroactive?

Begood said...

Drunk drivers should be charged $10,000 for their first offense,
$25,000 for their second offense and $35,000 and one year in jail for the third offense, after that throw away the key. Until Texas law makers hits drunk drivers in their back pockets they will not stop until they kill someone. You will agree when a drunk driver kills your loved one(s).

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Begood - What should happen when reality intervenes in the fantasy world you'd have us reside in and most DWI defendants can't or don't pay the high fees you'd prefer? This program shows empirically high fines don't work. You can't get blood from a stone.

9:01 - there's still a ways to go in the process, but here's the text of the version that passed the Senate.

Anonymous said...

Begood - FYI, $10,000 is about what it comes to at present for a first offense. Is it working?

Grits - thanks for the link!

Anonymous said...

I read the bill and the last statement is "from this day forward".

That doesn't do much to help those that are already caught in this boondoggle!

I hope someone will figure that out before it's finished.

Anonymous said...

Well, I was pretty disappointed that it didn't offer relief for us paying the surcharge. It amounts to double and triple payment. Also, I have never had a DWI but speeding and the lack of insurance....the speeding I'm ok with it - but the car I was in, my sisters, had insurance - but it lapsed. I understand that it is my responsibility for driving however I feel that something should be given to the actual owner. I simply show what is given. What about those with fake insurance...hold the owner accountable as well...not simply the driver. My responsibility is to "maintain' the hit and runs...etc., not to investigate the legitimacy of her insurance. To ease the burden for people like me...would be welcomed support.

Anonymous said...

To 9:00 AM

I have kept an eye on this because my dependent son is involved in it. FYI, last year the legislature instructed the DPS to develop an amnesty and indigency program for the DRS. it was supposed to be available by the end of 2008.

I called/e-mailed the DPS twice to find out when this will be accomplished and they told me to keep checking their website.

Perhaps the delay in developing the program is related to this pending legislation.

Since so many people have gotten caught up in this, I cannot help but think it will be addressed some way or another.

TFS said...

I thought that SB 896 would halt the DRP altogether, not offer reduced fines?!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

TFS, see the last line in the story, "Shapleigh originally proposed that the program be terminated. But opposition from Republican senators forced him to accept a compromise"

Anonymous said...

From what I know of the DRS, it is not a fine. The fine for the offense goes to the county or the city. The DRS is an automatic additional fee which is attached to a DL for certain convictions. At present, the judge hearing the offense has nothing to do with the amount of the surcharge.

It looks to me like this bill shifts the jurisdiction of the asssessment of the DRS over to the judge hearing the case and he can determine the amount and reduce it based upon proof of indigency or student status.

The revenue generated from the DRS supposedly provides the funding for the proposed Trans Texas Corridor and it also funds Trauma Centers.

While traffic offenses may contribute to the need for Trauma Centers, what do they have to do with the need for the Trans Texas Corridor?

This is some underhanded taxation if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question about this bill as it stands:

At present, the only enforcement available for delinquency is the suspension of the DL. Since this proposes that the judge is involved in the original assessment, will he also have the authority to issue an arrest warrant for delinquency? Or does he just turn over the amount to the DPS and they take care of the enforcement via suspension?

TFS said...

Does anyone know if the revised version of SB 896 cuts out MSB collection services? Also, who insisted on the revision? The vote record is not showing up yet on the leg. website.

Anonymous said...

I suppose yours got turned over for collection? My son's hasn't gone that far because we just never responded to the letters they sent every 6 months or so. Other than those letters, we have never heard anything about it. He does not drive so the lack of DL doesn't matter.

I honestly do not know how they will straighten this mess out. Some have paid it and obviously many have not. With all of this outstanding debt already out there, I just do not see how they can fix this without forgiving at least some of it.

Anonymous said...

I have made mistakes and gotten dwi's. thank GOD that i never hurt anyone. i have also served almost 4 years in prison, being passed up for parole because i had a dwi. i served most of my time, seeing rapist and murderers leave before me. now i am trying to get back into college, get a job, and gt on with my life. these surcharges started accumulating with the convictions. so i have 3 years of charges to pay all at once. my payment is more than a mortgage payment. I am an educated man, with a family who supports me, and it is still almost impossible to overcome. imagine if i did not have that. Something has to be done.

Anonymous said...

This is an ill thought out tax legislation. Plain and simple. The way it works in MI at least, the excess money goes into the general fund, which, they spend on TOURIST ads to bring in out of state drivers to ticket. That's right, DRF applies to out of staters as well, because it's a TAX. Not a fee as they mislabel the goddamn thing. The treasury dept. follows you. They have the law on their side to garnish wages, tax refunds, and steal out of you bank acct.

The person on here who just never responded to the collection letters, you're in for a big surprise. This whole time they've been assessing admin and surcharge fees without you knowing. What you should have done was tell those greedy bastards you are indigent, write letters, call their office. They might have suspended the fees and only stuck with the original amount, and stopped any collection process. But just ignoring them, is never the thing to do.

You can search for Judge William buhl, who is a voice against these laws. A circuit court judge who refuses to let the state get away with this crap when defedants stand before him.

And I'm the one who got a story published in the WA POST after connecting them to Buhl and another legislator in MI who got their comments in. It is what hopefully turned the tide and got VA to repeal this assinine law because the citizens were going to lynch and tar and feather the lawmakers. Now if only the citizens of these other state could get enough balls and stop bending over the barrel and do the same.

This type of law was doomed from the start in NJ. The way it's writen is a testament to incompetence of the US school and law system. Someone obviously didn't proof read it and understand the fees and payment scheme is unfair.

Anonymous said...

If a person does their time or pays their fine that should be it. Im a republican who is ashamed of this injustice. I will not pay one cent toward this illegal program and i will vote democrat until this is abolished. Please dont let your elected officials abuse their power. Our country is in enough trouble without this adding to it.

Anonymous said...

I haven't had a drivers license in over 5 years. I never got into a Wreak or drove recklessly. But I could not afford the 150 bucks a month for liability insurance. So I got lots of tickets For not having documents. Over 100 i'm sure the state has got plenty of money from me. So I get that nasty Surcharge letter and my world crashes. My license was revoked not suspended for no insurance???? so 5 years later and i'm still driving without insurance or a drivers license or tags now. I just don't care Take me to jail Make me loose my job and I will DESTROY everything !! I am a stable person but if you destabilize my fragile poor life then I would give my life to prove a point against the Pigs hiding behind our good police. Tags are out and i'm out of Luck no money and a lot hatred

Now I just wait until this explodes and I become a full time criminal

Anonymous said...

havent had a ticket in the last 5 yrs and my license is still revoked!!! im am unable to pay the 10,000 charge at 600/month!!!! trying to get a better job/go back to school and this has ruined my life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! please pass this bill!!

Anonymous said...

Sale your PC and learn to be more responsible. Did you buy a house that we are paying for also?