The good news: The Department of Public Safety today published proposed rule changes in the Texas Register to establish the first-ever indigency program for the surcharge.
The bad news: DPS has dramatically scaled back their original proposal last summer, and the Public Safety Commission will need to provide staff additional direction if the rules are to improve as much as is really needed.
Still, even the minimalist indigency program DPS proposed is a big improvement over what was in place before, which was nothing. What's more, at the last PSC meeting, commissioners made it clear they weren't wedded to the language and may strengthen the proposal based on what they hear at the public hearing. That would require reissuing the rules and holding a second public hearing later this year, but agency rulemaking is not a quick turnaround process. DPS staff had been stalling the rules for months, and at this point commissioners said they just wanted to get the process started.
Now that the rules have been published, there will be a 30-day period for them to accept public comments, then a public hearing before the issue goes back to the Public Safety Commission. (Those who are interested in submitting written comments may submit them to Rebekah Hibbs, Driver License Division, Texas Department of Public Safety, P.O. Box 4087 (MSC 0300), Austin, Texas 78773; by fax to (512) 424-5233; or by email to DLDRuleComments@txdps.state.tx.us. )
Obviously I'll be writing much more about this between now and then, but wanted to get the news out as soon as I heard it. Regular readers know I'm particularly pleased at this decision because, even though the Lege gave them authority to enact indigency and amnesty programs in 2007, the PSC only began to seriously consider the issue after a citizens' petition which was organized from this blog with the help of the good folks at the Texas Fair Defense Project and submitted to the Public Safety Commission last summer. So I feel a personal connection to this process in that regard and am tickled that it's gotten this far.
But that just means we have an opportunity; this is no time for anyone who supports these changes to rest on their laurels.
No public hearing date has been announced, but for now anyone interested should consider filing written comments during the next 30 days - particularly individuals with personal stories who can explain how the surcharge has impacted their lives and their families. If you do submit written testimony, shoot me a copy at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll try to find ways to use the greatest hits.
This rulemaking proposal presents a tremendous opportunity to fix one of Texas' worst public policy debacles that's resulted in 1.2 million Texans losing their drivers' licenses. The Public Safety Commission has just five members, which means in theory just three people could decide to enact major reforms to the Driver Responsibility surcharge if they chose to do so. Equally encouraging, commissioners have admirably educated themselves on the subject, and at their last meeting Commissioners Barth and Steen were already questioning staff over whether the current proposal goes far enough.
The publication of today's rules, then, is a welcome step forward. I'm hopeful DPS will make the most of the opportunity.
See related Grits posts:
- New Driver Responsibility rules unveiled today at DPS
- Were indigency, amnesty programs for Driver Responsibility Surcharge secretly "dropped"?
- More delays on Driver Responsibility rules
- Public Safety Commission backs Driver Responsibility revamp
- DPS to propose its own Driver Responsibility "indigency" program alongside (instead of?) citizen petition
- Suspeding drivers licenses for economic crimes problematic here and abroad
- Petition for new Driver Responsibility rules filed today
- 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
- Department of "Public Safety" or "Collections"?
- Indigency program mandated for 'driver responsibility' fees?
- 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