Thursday, January 20, 2011

Media should promote amnesty on Driver Responsibility surcharge if DPS won't

The Waco Tribune Herald has a helpful article from Cincy Culp (subscription only) informing their readers about new Amnesty opportunities for drivers who've defaulted on their Orwellian-named "Driver Responsibility" surcharges, including some stats I hadn't seen before on how many Texans are actually eligible for the program. The story opens:
People who have had their driver’s license suspended for failing to pay certain fees to the state have a chance to settle up for just a fraction of what they owe.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has launched an amnesty initiative for the state’s Driver Responsibility Program. It requires people convicted of certain driving violations to pay an annual surcharge to maintain their driver’s license.

People who qualify for amnesty will only have to pay 10 percent of the surcharges they owe, up to a maximum of $250, said DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange. Any previous payments people have made will count toward the new total, meaning some will have the slate wiped clean as soon as they apply, she said.

Statewide, about 650,000 people are eligible for amnesty, Mange said. Between them, they have about 3 million instances of unpaid surcharges, she said.

“We want them to become legal, licensed drivers,” Mange said. “It’s important for people to be licensed and to be able to purchase insurance because we all have to drive with them.”

To be eligible for the program, people must be delinquent on one or more surcharges assessed between Sept. 30, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2008. That period was chosen because it accounts for the bulk of unpaid surcharges, Mange said.
Regrettably, DPS tells me it has no funds available to notify the 650,000 drivers who're eligible for amnesty. I find that stance frustrating because the vendor who runs the program - Municipal Services Bureau - already sends dunning notices and followup phone calls to delinquent surcharge owers. Why not just have the vendor change the messaging in the ongoing collections communication they're already doing to notify eligible drivers of Amnesty opportunities? I don't think it would cost more, it would just require crafting messages in ongoing communications to reflect recent DPS rule changes. For whatever reason, though, that's not going to happen.

In any event, please help spread the word, Grits readers, in any venue available to you: Amnesty applications can be filled out at www.txsurchargeonline.com or by calling 877-207-3170.

Indeed, that goes double for bloggers and newspaper, radio and TV reporters and editors reading Grits: If DPS is not going to publicize the amnesty programs beyond a press release or two, please consider performing the same public service as the Trib for those 650,000 Texans (or at least the subset among your viewership - we're talking about 4% of drivers) who would benefit from applying for Amnesty.

Grits along with the Texas Fair Defense Project and other allies fought for more than a year to convince DPS to offer this Amnesty opportunity, and they may not do it again any time soon. It'd be a shame if participation rates were low because word just never gets out about the program.

Of course, in an ideal world all of that would be moot if Rep. Leo Berman's HB 299 passed and abolished the DRP program altogether. Until that happy day, though, the amnesty program, not to mention the indigency program which will follow it, are a tremendous boon to Texas drivers owing surcharges who heretofore couldn't afford to get street legal. All I can say to them is: Please, for heaven's sake, after all the effort it took to get the rules changed, take advantage of the opportunity!

See related Grits posts:

5 comments:

w said...

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR POSTING THAT! I HAD SOME SERIOUS SURCHARGES THAT I COULD NOT PAY BEING A SINGLE MOM WHO'S CHILDS FATHER IS IN PRISON. ALL I HAD TO DO WAS INPUT MY INFORMATION AFTER CLICKING ON THE LINK AND MY BALANCE WAS SUDDENLY REDUCED TO ZERO! BIG HELP! I WILL PASS THE WORD.

Anonymous said...

Thank You so much for this. I to have been stuck out in many ways because of this ridiculous program. I will do my part to spread the word.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe it, but I just got thousands of dollars I 'owe' diminish to only being $78 I owe! Thanks to Grits!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for Posting this it is great information. I have been following this and hoping this would include my surcharges but unfortunatly my offence was within the time frame but my billing was not so I dont qualify for the program. I have been banking on this for a while and now I dont know what I am going to do. Any one have any feedback on similar cases?

W W Woodward said...

The entire surcharge program is nothing but a revenue producing scheme and should be abolished. DPS was never intended to be a collection agency.
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