Time running out for Driver Responsibility Program amnesty
Of the 713,444 people who are eligible to participate in the Driver Responsibility Program amnesty, only 54,035 (about 7.5 percent of the total) have signed up so far. The amnesty program allows delinquent drivers to pay just 10 percent of the original amount owed on all surcharges combined, or a maximum of $250.While I'm gratified that these new rules - which were initiated after this blog and allies from the Texas Fair Defense Project organized and submitted a citizens' petition for rulemaking to the Public Safety Commission - have already helped more than 54,000 people, a 7.5% participation rate is disappointing. I'm still hopeful that probation departments will help notify DWI offenders under their supervision; Cary Welebob at TDCJ-CJAD told me they recently sent out notification to Texas probation chiefs about the amnesty opportunity, so maybe that will help boost the numbers..
Drivers are not required to make a payment when they sign up, however they must pay off all money owed by April 17 to retain their driving privileges. Eligible drivers have until April 7 to sign up for this program and must pay all surcharge amounts by April 17.
This one-time amnesty applies to drivers who had a surcharge assessed between Sept. 30, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2008, and are delinquent on those payments.
Once the online or telephone application is approved, the surcharge suspensions will be cleared on the applicant’s driving record within three business days. After three business days, the applicant can review the reduced amount on line and begin making the necessary payments.
To apply for the amnesty program, see the surcharge website at www.txsurchargeonline.com or call 1-877-207-3170. No requests will be accepted by mail, e-mail or fax.
The Driver Responsibility Program, which assesses fees for a variety of driving-related offenses, was passed by the Legislature in 2003 and directed the Department of Public Safety to administer the program. Traffic offenses that carry an automatic surcharge for three years include DWI-related offenses, no insurance, driving while license suspended, driving without a license and point accumulation. For example, the fee for a first-time DWI offender is $1,000 per year for three years. The revenue generated by DRP goes to trauma centers, emergency medical services and the General Revenue Fund.
I'd still like to see legislation by Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Leo Berman get rid of the Driver Responsibility program altogether, but the big hitch is replacing the money it generates in a tight budget year, particularly for trauma center hospitals. (In the Senate, Whitmire's bill was referred to the Finance Committee, where notably Chairman Steve Ogden authored the 2007 legislation that allowed DPS to create the Amnesty program.) My view: In order to resolve health and education spending issues, the Legislature will this session be forced to radically restructure its revenue generation models, probably raising taxes in some areas (whatever is said publicly, the shortfall is just too large), and those changes will be dealing with very large numbers, in the billions, dwarfing the DRP revenue. IMO funding for trauma hospitals should be subsumed in whatever financing fix the Lege makes for healthcare generally. Indeed, it wouldn't bother me to just see that relatively small amount added to the gas tax, since auto accidents account for such a large proportion of trauma center demand. I don't mind state government providing support to hospital trauma centers, this is just the wrong way to do it.
In the meantime, though, this Amnesty program is open and active for another six weeks, no matter what happens at the Legislature. If you or someone you know owes the Driver Responsibility surcharge and meets the eligibility requirements, I hope you'll take advantage of the opportunity. It took a year-long campaign to get the PSC to approve Amnesty and one hopes that those who might benefit won't waste a hard-earned opportunity.