Friday, July 16, 2010

Amnesty, Indigence programs make it into surcharge rules; 'incentive' program not immediately implemented

Finally we see the new, proposed rule changes to the Driver Responsibility surcharge, and at first blush they look pretty good compared to what the agency had suggested before, though the "Incentive" program regrettably won't be immediately implemented. (See the proposal uploaded here on Google Docs. Read it for yourself for more details.) Here are the topline descriptions of the programs from DPS:
The amnesty program will apply only to individuals currently suspended and not in compliance with the surcharge assessment. Eligible individuals will pay 10% of the total surcharges due, not to exceed $250.  If 25% of the eligible individuals participate annually in the amnesty program, the estimated collections would be approximately $18 million.

The incentive program will apply only to individuals who are in compliance for all surcharges, or pay a one-time reduced amount for all surcharges.  It is estimated that 39% of individuals would be eligible for the incentive program. The estimated fees waived annually would be approximately $23 million.  Due to the estimated fiscal impact, the incentive program is not implemented with the adoption of the rule but will be implemented at the department’s discretion.

The indigency program defined by this rule will apply only to individuals living at or below 125% of the federal poverty level. Eligible individuals will pay 10% of the total surcharges due, not to exceed $250.  Eligible individuals may be comprised of those currently paying and those not currently paying.  For 100% of individuals currently paying, the estimated fees waived are approximately $11 million. For 100% of individuals not paying, the estimated fees collected are approximately $17 million. Therefore, the indigency program could see additional collections or a loss of uncollected revenue.
So the Amnesty and Indigency programs will go into effect when the rules are finalized, but the Incentive program won't. Bummer.

The Indigency program is less generous than I'd hoped, but in 2011 state law will require DPS to completely waive surcharges for indigents, so that may work itself out over time.

I suppose it's understandable why in tight budget times it's the Incentive program that won't be implemented immediately - those are folks who are current on their payments and the state risks losing revenue for some of them, though others may pay the first year then stop, etc.. When implemented, the Incentive program would give discounts of 30% - 50% if drivers pay their surcharges in a one-time lump sum instead of over three years.

As readers well know, I think this program should be abolished for a multitude of reasons. But that can only be done by the Legislature. This round of rulemaking doesn't solve every problem with the DRP, by a longshot, but it's a big step in the right direction. Congrats and thank you to the Public Safety Commissioners in particular for pushing hard on this, even when staff was at times reluctant. And thanks to Paul Watkins at DPS for letting me participate in their workgroup.

I'll have more analysis soon and will also try to let you know what others think about the new rules. Yesterday they were officially proposed by the Public Safety Commission but haven't yet been published in the Texas Register, so hold your written comments until they are. I'll let readers know when they officially light that candle, which will trigger a timeline for public comments, another hearing, etc..

RELATED: "Public Safety Commission approves driver responsibility program changes," Wilson County News 

UPDATE: You can download DPS' rather minimalist power point presentation on the proposed rules here, though you'll get a better sense of what they're doing by just reading them yourself.


JOHN said...

So if I owe 7,500 dollars and have never paid a single penny, they will now accept 250 dollars and call it good???? Or do you mean if 10% = more than $250 I wont qualify?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

As long as you apply during the period its offered and otherwise qualify for amnesty, John, the first interpretation is how I read it, though I'm not a lawyer.

We discussed that issue a lot in the workgroup. The goal of Amnesty is to maximize the number of licensed and insured drivers on Texas roads and this gives the maximum number of people a chance to wipe the slate clean.

Here's the exact language on Amnesty proposed in the rules:

(a) The department is authorized to provide for a periodic amnesty program under the Driver Responsibility Program, Texas Transportation Code, Section 708.157(a). Periodic amnesty reductions will be offered at the department’s discretion, and the public will be notified of each amnesty period.

(1) Amnesty will apply to individuals who have been in default for a specified amount of time prior to the announcement of amnesty. The department will determine the amount of time in default for each amnesty period.

(2) To be eligible for the amnesty reduction, each individual will be required to complete an application online or by telephone. Each applicant eligible for amnesty will be required to pay 10% of the total amount of surcharges assessed, not to exceed $250.

(3) The total amount is based on all offenses on the driver record at the beginning of each amnesty period, including annual surcharges that have not been assessed for the offenses. If a new offense is reported and a new surcharge assessed after the beginning of the amnesty period, the reduction will not apply to the new surcharge.

(4) Once the department determines the applicant is eligible for amnesty, the department will rescind the suspension of driving privileges for each applicant that receives amnesty.

(5) Payment of the reduced amount must be received by the end of the amnesty period.

(6) A notice will be mailed to each applicant receiving amnesty and will provide the last date to pay and the balance due.

(7) If the applicant has made payment(s) prior to approval for the reduced payment, the prior payment(s) will be applied to the reduced payment.

(A) If the prior payment(s) is less than the reduced payment, the driver will be required to pay only the difference.

(B) If prior payment(s) exceeds the reduced payment, the driver will not be required to make a payment. Any prior payments that exceed the reduced payment will not be processed for a refund.

(8) The compensation authorized by Texas Transportation Code, Section 708.155(c) applies to the reduced payment.

(9) If the reduced payment is received after the end of each amnesty period, the payment will be applied to the oldest outstanding surcharge account(s), and the individual must comply with the original surcharge assessment(s).

(10) An individual will be eligible to receive amnesty only once every three years.

Anonymous said...

(6) A notice will be mailed to each applicant receiving amnesty and will provide the last date to pay and the balance due.

The problem I see here is knowing how to make contact with those who owe. I'm willing to bet the majority of the last known addresses from drivers license files are not current or good mailing addresses.

John said...

Well I for one am really happy with 250 as opposed to 7500. I will take it upon myself to contact them to find out if I qualify. Hell, If I don't qualify I'll just give up. Qualify me or go unpaid.

Any word on wether or not dwi makes a difference?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

John, DWIs not excluded. That's because, of all the surcharge owers, arguably it's most important from the hospitals' perspective that drunk drivers are licensed an insured because if not they end up at the emergency room with no coverage.

1:49, that's a good point. Maybe it's possible to work on that (address matching services, etc..) as part of implementation. Marketing the plan will be a really important component for the Amnesty to be widely used.

Old Cop said...

Scott, many thanks for your interest and efforts for keeping up with this canker on the rears of all Texans. If left unreported and unopposed, featherlegged revenue generating programs like this will continue to be heaped upon us by the Lege ad infinitum. Muchos Gracias again Amigo.

Don said...

Maybe the probation departments could help get in touch and let people know about the rules. I teach DWI Education and DWI Intervention classes so all these clients are affected. Most of them are on probation.

JOHN said...

Hey grits... I want to thank you and everyone else who have fought this issue for so long. I felt for so long like there would never be a way out. Like my self-dug hole was way too deep. I have cleaned up every aspect of my life, legally, professionally and spiritually. But there was this one lingering problem of the DRP that would not go away. You would be surprised how no being able to drive can effect your feeling of self-worth. Luckily living in Houston there was always metro..... But try telling your néw girlfriend that you will be picking her up on the #40!

So I feel like not taking part in this amnesty program would be a huge slap in the face to those who fought for me when I couldn't fight for myself.

Thanks again.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It ain't over till it's over, John, so no chicken counting until the PSC finally approves the rules and they announce an amnesty date. But I truly appreciate your kind words.

Hopefully the PSC will pass this and the agency will roll it out by next tax season, e.g., Feb to April or whatever dates their past payment patterns say are the best periods to capitalize on that dynamic (most people who pay off back fees do it during those months). That'll also be a great opportunity as Don says for probation directors, criminal defense lawyers, and other systemic actors to educate potentially eligible clients about the chance of amnesty. It'd be great if there were a concerted effort to maximize the number of folks who take advantage of the chance to get out from under the government fees and become street legal.

This is a positive step and it's especially gratifying that they went back and added the amnesty provisions. But it's really important in politics, as in sports, to "finish." You don't want to find yourself ahead for a moment then turn out to be Leon Lett fumbling just before he reaches the goal line.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for carrying the flag for amnesty.

Anonymous said...

I'm ready now. Where is the application for indigent status located and what is the process?