Monday, December 21, 2009

I know, you're shocked: Texas fines, fees, court costs went up in 2009

Just in from the Comptroller:
Let's run through a few highlights from this rather dry document (N.b., see the correction/clarification below):

As usual, what we see here is for the most part a one-way ratchet: Only new fees are created and costs only ever go up. Fees charged for documents and routine job functions of the courts are increasing. (The only notable exception to that trend is the allowance for waiver of a fee for expunction related to an acquittal.)

There's a new fee for being arrested:
WARRANT FEE: A defendant convicted of a felony or misdemeanor shall pay $50 for a law enforcement agency’s execution of an issued arrest warrant, capias or capias pro fine, if the agency requests the court, not later than the 15th day after the date of execution, to impose the fee.
And there's another fee for not arresting you but instead writing a notice to appear in court:
Arrest Fee: $5 for issuing a written notice to appear in court following the defendant’s violation of a traffic law, municipal ordinance or penal law or for making an arrest without a warrant. (Art. 102.011, Code of Criminal Procedure)
There's a new $25 fee for anyone who elects to pay fines on a time payments, split 60-40 between the state and county courts..

The new veterans court program notably includes a "reasonable program fee not to exceed $1,000" along with "a testing, counseling and treatment fee in an amount necessary to cover the costs of any testing, counseling or treatment performed or provided under the program."

Adult probationers and parents of youth committed to TYC will be assessed a $34 fee to have their DNA swabbed for inclusion in the statewide database.

I also learned for the first time from this document about a bill that received little attention during the 81st Legislature (certainly by me) but which threatens to create a lot of mischief for folks caught up in the spiral of criminal fines and civil fees associated with unlicensed drivers and no-insurance tickets. Dubbed "Eric's Law," here's the comptroller's description:
House Bill 2012, effective Sept. 1, 2009, amends Section 521.457, Transportation Code, by enhancing the penalty for the offense of operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor if it is shown at trial that the person was operating the motor vehicle in violation of the motor vehicle liability insurance requirement, and to a Class A misdemeanor if it is shown at trial that the person was operating the motor vehicle in violation of that requirement and caused or was at fault in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in serious bodily injury to or the death of another person.
With one in four Texas drivers still uninsured despite millions of no-insurance tickets given, I seriously doubt this new law will change the number of uninsured drivers on the road. And the reason Texas' has so many drivers without licenses is that after they get a no-insurance ticket, the state suspends their driver licenses if they can't pay their steep "Driver Responsibility Fee," which is a civil penalty paid for three years after the offense on top of any criminal fines.

(BTW, I learned last week that the Department of Public Safety will next month finally be releasing its long-awaited new rules on indigency and amnesty programs for the Driver Responsibility Program. Stay tuned on that score. State Rep. Sylvester Turner's staff is trying to convince DPS to share the proposed rules with stakeholders before posting them in the Texas Register.)

HB 2012, authored by Dallas-area Democrat Allen Vaught, will discourage indigent drivers from complying with the law by increasing fees and fines so high they can never pay their fines and fees and also pay for auto insurance. If Texas cities had good public transportation, that might not be a problem. But with 25% of drivers uninsured, if starting tomorrow they all complied with the law and quit driving, it would actually disrupt the economy from so many people unable to work.

This change won't do any more than the old law to encourage drivers to buy insurance or renew their licenses. Instead it will jack up the fines they owe to an unreasonable amount, needlessly fill up the jails with more low-level cases, and, for indigent drivers, compel counties to pay for more attorneys for Class B misdemeanors. In other words, the new law creates a lot of problems with no real upside but squeezing revenue from a source (drivers who can't afford insurance) who already cannot pay for their basic obligations as a driver.

None of that's the Comptroller's fault, of course. She's just the messenger. It's just a bit of a Grinch-ish message to deliver every biennium, much less during a recession, that "fines and fees are going up."

CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION: A couple of commenters rightly pointed out that I misinterpreted the comptroller report by saying that all the new fees described in it where passed this year. In fact, this document updates courts' fee list overall - each of the listed fees was not created this session, though some of them were like those for veterans courts and the boosted fines in HB 2012. I regret and apologize for the error.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why don't they just go ahead and make it a criminal offense to be poor? Sorry, I forgot, they already have.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you just not break the law therefore never having to pay any of those fees.

ckikerintulia said...

I wonder if anonymous 3:54 ever exceeds the speed limit, fails to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, etc. etc. He/she seems more than willing to cast the first stone, so I assume he/she is completely w/o guilt.

Anonymous said...

You bet I do! I exceed the speed limit, don't come to a complete stop, etc... However, I am fully aware of the consequences if I get caught. If an officer pulls me over and writes me a ticket, I don't whine and bitch about the consequences of a law that I intentionally broke.

It's called taking responsible for my actions!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So 4:38, the one in four Texas drivers who have no insurance are all just irresponsible? It's not because many people just can't afford it?

To the extent folks are scofflaws and thumbing their noses at the lw, that's one thing. To the extent mandated coverage makes it a crime simply to have a low income and a car, there's less culpability to my mind.

FWIW, I also have the same concern about the Obamacare mandated coverage. If 25% of Texans don't buy car insurance when it's mandated, why would passing a law cause them to buy health insurance they can't afford? It's an essentially similar economic dynamic.

Boyness said...

Hey...everyone bitches at the thought of a state income tax so it's kinda hard to complain when Texas TAXES everything else and I mean EVERYTHING!

Anonymous said...

I probably don't have a really good grip on the problem and I'm not real good at math. But if the end goal from a public safety standpoint is to have all drivers insured, wouldn't it be more cost efficient to force the insurance companies to cover at least the minimal needs of lower income individuals?

I know that where I live one has to have liability insurance to get a drivers license. It is very cheap and not dependent on whether or not you even own a car. The insurance companies don't like it but they are mandated to provide it by the state. Price of doing business.

I know it wouldn't solve the entire problem but it doesn't seem what is happening now is solving much either.

Anonymous said...

There's a new fee for being arrested:

WARRANT FEE: A defendant convicted of a felony or misdemeanor shall pay $50 for a law enforcement agency’s execution of an issued arrest warrant, capias or capias pro fine, if the agency requests the court, not later than the 15th day after the date of execution, to impose the fee.

This is not a new fee as it has been in effect for several years.

These fees amount to nothing more than the word "tax." And we all think the lege isn't smart. These fees are created by the lege as nothing more than another revenue generating resource for the state using local government as the collectors. It has nothing to do with correcting behavior, promoting safe driving and public safety and only tends to complicate already overcrowding in local county jails.



Retired LE

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone is whining and bitching with the consequences .. I went to jail and paid the tickets! On top of that I'm willing to pay my surcharge , but lower it to a monthly payment I can make! $600/ month ....crazy!!

Anonymous said...

What percentage of the 25% uninsured are uninsured b/c they think they can get away with it. I don't know, but it would be interesting.

A glaring problem with the insurance laws, is that its very hard to enforce. Short of getting stopped by an officer, who would know?

What about Insurance checkpoints as an idea?

Anonymous said...

Why don't you just not break the law therefore never having to pay any of those fees.

Hey 3:54, do you think someone stopped in 2009 should have gone to jail on a 2003 warrant for failing to asppear for jury duty? Not only could the defendant not make his $1500 bail and was also unable to get a public defender, he spent 83 days in jail until the Dallas Morning News informed a Collin County judge about the situation.

Now how is that protecting the public? Just because as you say "why don't you just not break the law?"

Source: Texas Monthly January 2010page 91

Retired LE

Adam said...

I am a probation officer and deal with different levels of income for a certain type of criminal population. I must say that for some poor individuals, giving them a fine that they can not afford doesn't get them driving legally any faster. I don't have a problem with using punishment at time but not when it is counter productive. It is just a problem that we punish someone who is poor the same as someone who is thumbing their nose at a law [that the fine might not even be a problem to pay]. That doesn't solve anything.

Boyness said...

Grits...why dont you report on the almost $10 million dollars DPS raised last year writing tickets over the holidays. Public safety my ass!

Trying to Be Helpful said...

GRITS: PLEASE DOUBLE-CHECK THIS POST.

The time payment fee is in Local Government Code 133.103, added in 2003 and amended last in 2005.

The warrant fee is Code of Criminal Procedure 102.011, enacted in 2007 and re-enacted in 2009, and definitely charged prior to this legislative session.

Please be aware that the Comptroller produces this handy guide for courts every two years; it is intended for use to double-check what SHOULD be charged, and therefore includes both new and previous court costs.

Anonymous said...

The new guidelines for the drivers responsibility program are detailed in the meetings of the last DPS Commissioner meeting and they passed unanimously :http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/calendar/documents/minutes091709.pdf

Anonymous said...

Do you guys know how angry this TDRP has made me , I Can;t efficiently find a job, I had to sell my car b/c i kept getting tickets and going to jail! i Ride my bicycle Everywhere now!. I have over 12 thousand dollars owed to the TRDP. I haven't worked in 6 months. I tried to commit suicide by cop when they last pulled me over! I used to make 10 bucks an hour and just barely make it. Now All this because of one no insurance ticket ! ONE , then it snow balled into others because they suspended my drivers license without telling me. I paid the state so i Didn't have warrants. But all This has made me angry! Angry b/c the rich Get to drive and i HATE all CARS now! I am not Working for Microsoft for 10 bucks an hour doing program customer support. I Am No longer a productive member of society ! And if you have something to say I would love to Get Violent and Express all my HATE onto your greedy ass . Just like when i throw ball bearings into your windshield when you try and run me over when i'm riding my bike to the store To buy FOOD !!!!

raymundo said...

know exactly how you feel! im in the exact situation....this law makes you not want to be a productive member of society!.. leaves you with NO chance to move on with your life and be something better! according to http://www.shapleigh.org/news/3801--grover-s-tub-debtors-prisons ...WE STILL HAVE TO WAIT TILL 2011 !!!!!!! ...and even then, doubt any progress will happen!

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Anonymous said...

Fees are increasing due to shortfalls in the budget. Perry failed to take federal money (my federal taxes) but the state needs 1.2 billion to make up the 2010 defecit. Perry passed on 830 million from the ARRA because he didn't want the feds to tell him what to do with the states budget. Now Texans must shell out more money in fines, fees, court cost and whatever other bs scheme the GOB can come up with. It's the classic Perry double dip. He's such a D-Bag. Bad for Texas, bad for the middle class! Wake up, do your own research. This guy is toxic.