Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pub ed going well on surcharge amnesty, but probationers need to be notified

I'm pleased to see that a press release issued yesterday by DPS on the Amnesty program for the Driver Responsibility surcharge has received a great deal of mainstream press.

Just 650,000 of the 1.2 million drivers whose licenses are suspended under the program are eligible for Amnesty, but for them it's a tremendous boon. Those who made payments in the past likely now owe little or nothing at all. If your license was suspended for surcharges owed from 2004-'08, go here to find out if you're eligible. You can also call 1-877-207-3170. Seriously, do it now: It took a lot of effort by a lot of folks to get these Amnesty rules approved, so please take advantage of them if you're eligible.

In other good news on the Amnesty promotion front, on Thursday I'd written that it's important the media promote Amnesty because DPS couldn't afford to notify eligible drivers. I said that because of an email I'd received from Tela Mange in their public information office declaring, "As you know, the Department does not have the funds to provide a full campaign.  ... The use of mailed notices and telephone campaigns is not feasible." In last week's post, I expressed frustration that the agency wouldn't notify eligible drivers because they're already paying their vendor, Municipal Services Bureau out of Austin, to contact people who owe surcharges by mail and by phone on an ongoing basis.

But DPS' front-line employees picked up the slack where their media flack let me down. ;) Rebekah Hibbs, who runs the DRP program for the agency, saw the recommendation on Grits and ran with it, I'm informed by her boss, Paul Watkins, who is the DPS' Deputy Assistant Director for Customer Operations in the Driver License Division. MSB will be including information about Amnesty in its correspondence beginning this week! Great job, Rebekah, thank you!

There's one area, though, where promotion efforts for the Amnesty program have so far flagged. A retired judge and friend of the blog emails to say that "my wife is adult probation officer and instructions on this subject have NOT been disseminated to CSCDs so they can advise their probationers, we would have thought might be a good idea. DOH."

Ideally TDCJ-CJAD would do this, perhaps even matching lists of surcharge-owers with current probationers, but this needs to happen ASAP. The Amnesty window closes April 17. So for those probation chiefs who read this blog: Please figure out how to get information about surcharge Amnesty to your eligible probationers (particularly DWI), and let your fellow chiefs know they should do the same. Local judges, contact your probation director and ask them to distribute this information. If nothing else, reducing other obligations might make it more likely probation fees get paid!

Bottom line: The more people who successfully apply for Amnesty, the more licensed, insured drivers we have on Texas roads. A whopping 4% of Texas drivers are eligible for Amnesty (and that's only half the total number with suspended licenses from an unpaid Driver Responsibility surcharge). So far, according to one report, 4,000 drivers received amnesty in the first week (before the agency's big media push). I have no idea what participation rate to expect, but I'm hoping it's a lot more than that before it's done.

This has been a fun little campaign, but it's important to finish strong by maximizing the public ed component to get the most people possible to participate. DPS is pulling their weight, and now the MSM. What will you do? Please help spread the word, Grits readers, in any venue available to you: Amnesty applications can be filled out at or by calling 877-207-3170.


Anonymous said...

Grits, we don't have the money to do a mail-out to all the folks charged with DWLI in our municipal court in the last 3+ years (since it became a Class C), but we have posted information regarding the amnesty up in our courthouse, and I will personally be letting defendants who are here for these issues know about it throughout the amnesty period. As a prosecutor who offered negative public comment on DPS's initial indigence rules for failing to recognize the actual definition of indigence and for not going far enough to solve this problem, I feel strongly that the back office got us into this mess, but only the front line folks can get us out of it. Since you are often -- in my view, a little too often unfairly so -- critical of those of us cogs in the state side of the justice system, I just wanted to let you know, we're doin' all we can, and if I had the budget, I'd do more. I'd encourage all of my fellow municipal court prosecutors who are seeing these defendants to do the same.

Anonymous said...

A local talk show radio host devoted a part of his show yesterday to this subject. The problem was he had no idea what the surcharge consists of. He was calling those required to pay the surcharge deadbeats, criminals and losers. Several people attempted to call in and educate him. I just dont think he ever got it. He was on KLIF radio, Dallas. It was the after 4 pm host, Chris something or other.

A Texas PO said...

As a probation officer, I was thrilled to hear that this was finally approved by DPS! I was saddened, however, that the amnesty program started on January 17, 2011, but the media was not notified until January 25, 2011. Why the 8 day delay? And why not release this information BEFORE the start of the program? I have not been told by my director or judges that this is a priority, particularly since many departments are struggling to get probationers to pay on their fees during these difficult times to help us get through the budget cuts we are about to be slammed with (or gutted, as your informant stated). The officers in my department now know about this and are taking action. But a little leadership never hurt anybody (come on, CJAD!)!

Anonymous said...

Other states are abandoning these surcharge laws all together so why is Texas still trying to push this crap down Texans throats when none of the money is going towards the programs that it was suppose to support. Where is all the money?????????

Anonymous said...

Grits, can you possibly provide any data regarding the number of DWI's that the citizens of Texas have got in like the past year or any other time frame? I've looked everywhere including the FBI website that tracks crimes and have thus far been unable to get any solid figures. Thanks.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sorry, I just now noticed the last comment/question. It's been in the 100,000 arrests range annually for the last few years, but conviction rates have been steadily declining since 2005. See here.