That's easy enough: This is an administrative fee piled on top of the already-steep criminal penalties for a no-insurance ticket or DWI stop. It's quite high and stretches out over three years, in some cases at a cost of $1,000 per year or more. In the case of no-insurance, in particular, the main reason people aren't insured is usually cost, not criminal malice. So piling on needless extra cost actually reduces the likelihood drivers can afford insurance and arguably reduces public safety. After a certain point, there is a diminishing return on the effectiveness of high fines and this fee long ago crossed that threshold.
All of the commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with the collection rate, but none expressed any reservations about the program itself -- though they did note that several legislators are not supportive of the program.
Drivers License Division Chief Judy Brown noted that the program was modeled after New Jersey's ("why we would want to emulate ANYTHING about New Jersey is anathema to me," my informant intones as an aside) -- and she said the NJ program had tools at its disposal which are not available to the DPS, particularly the ability to put liens on people's homes and to garnish their wages. (!) "Don't be surprised if DPS seeks statutory authority for this next session," I was told.
The vendor in charge of collections makes automated calls to non-payers and sends out dunning letters on the Department's letterhead. (Chief of Audit & Inspection Farrell Walker committed a gaffe of sorts when he referred to these as "annoyance calls" and was gently upbraided for it by Commissioner John Steen.) The Commission appears to favor increasing the frequency of the "annoyance calls" and dunning letters, and reporting non-payers to the credit bureaus. In fact, there's some sentiment for wanting to review the contractor's performance. Chairman Allan Polunsky specifically asked staff whether there is a termination clause in the contract. The contractor will be summoned to attend the next PSC meeting.
It sounds like the PSC is focused on the wrong problem regarding driver responsibility fees. I'm surprised to hear commissioners weren't instead discussing the new indigency program mandated by the 81st Legislature in DPS's Sunset bill. Instead they're focused on mulcting more money from already-punished Texans who can't afford it or else busting them with the credit agencies. A little tone-deaf to the zeitgeist of the times, don't you think?
Anyone who'd like to educate the PSC about the Driver Responsibility program may want to mark their calendars for the third Thursday in July when the commission meets again.