To my knowledge, this will make Grits the first blog ever, certainly in Texas, to formally participate in state agency rulemaking in such a direct way. By submitting a petition with 25 signatures, under state law the Public Safety Commission is required to at least has to give the issue a public hearing.
While I'd hoped to have this filed by last week, we received excellent input from several quarters, most notably from Amanda Marzullo and Andrea Marsh at the Texas Fair Defense Project who helped a lot fine tuning the details. Several reader suggestions were also incorporated, as were some changes suggested by a collections expert with the Office of Court Administration.
With these modifications, I feel quite pleased with the results. This petition puts forth a solid proposal that will waive fees for indigent drivers, create incentives that boost program compliance, give amnesty in older cases (when drivers can demonstrate insurance coverage), and generally reduce the number of people driving with no insurance and suspended licenses.
We're talking about a lot of folks: 6% of Texas drivers currently owe the surcharge, and hundreds of thousands of them have had their licenses revoked for nonpayment.
Signators on the physical petition included state Rep. Sylvester Turner, the author of the amendment requiring DPS to create an Indigency Program. He also wrote a letter clarifying the legislative intent behind his amendment: "The canons of legislative interpretation do not allow the agency to construe the requirements of Section 6 [requiring creation of an indigency program] as meaningless," he stated. "The Public Safety Comission must create an Indigency Program by Sept. 1, 2009." (Emphasis in original.)
Other signators on the petition included representatives from the Texas Fair Defense Project, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, the Equal Justice Center, the Justice Project, and the ACLU of Texas.
I've uploaded both the petition and the new rules being proposed onto Google documents. Give 'em a read, if you're interested.
There are five members of the Public Safety Commission who will decide whether to approve these rules, and DPS has published snail mail addresses for each of them on its website. Those who want to support the amendments may send letters to these commissioners via snail mail (which makes more of an impression than electronic communication anyway). Later on there will be an opportunity to submit formal comments to the agency regarding the rules.
The proposal must be published in the Texas Register before the Public Safety Commission can hold a public hearing, so I'll keep readers informed as we go along on where we are in the process and what else you can do to help.
- Proposed DPS rule would create new Indigency Program for 'Driver Responsibility' surcharge
- PSC plans to cancel contract with Driver Responsibility fee collection vendor
- DPS wrong to delay indigency program for 'driver responsibility' surcharge
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- Senate would let judges reduce misnamed 'driver responsibility' fee
- On the limits of the justice system as tax collector
- 70% of 'Driver Responsibility' fees go unpaid
- Bad TX law fills road with unlicensed drivers, jails with non-crooks
- More than 10% of Texans currently wanted by police
- Driver Responsibility fee had unintended consequences, say prosecutors