Thursday, March 03, 2011

'Time running out for Driver Responsibility Program amnesty' - 54,000+ now rid of surcharges

Just got this press release from the Department of Public Safety:
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.
 
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.
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..

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.

12 comments:

Prison Doc said...

Is there data on how much DRP money actually went to EMS and trauma, or did it all get sucked up into general revenue? I hate taxes as much as the next guy especially with our huge sales tax, but all these fees, fines, and assessments are bonkers.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Prison Doc, the Texas Tribune recently reported that hospitals aren't getting most of the "dedicated" money:

"In initial budget proposals, lawmakers have resisted alloting the fund's full amount for trauma care because it helps pad the state's general revenue account.

"'It’s sort of a savings account for the state,' said Dinah Welsh, CEO of Texas EMS Trauma and Acute Care Foundation. Because the funds are dedicated, they can’t be appropriated for any other purpose — so if they’re not marked for trauma care, 'they sit in an account sort of in the sky,' Welsh said. The Legislature appropriated $150 million last biennium for trauma care from the dedicated DRP fund, she said, but an additional $380 million stayed in the DRP account."

Prison Doc said...

Right. That's why I don't want to hear some jerk saying we need to keep DRP because the money pays for trauma care.

Christopher said...

I just got a bill today for total amount due $844.00. The problem with amnesty is it only applies to accounts that predates 2009. This is almost half my take home pay for this month. Suffice to say, I will remain without a license and insurance.

The amnesty program only affects about 1/3 of drivers with surcharges. Even if there was a 100% participation rate, very little good will come out. The number of drivers unable to pay these fees will continue to grow.

Anonymous said...

My license was suspended for possession of a controlled substance (6 gms marijuana) while walking! Three years later, when I applied for the surcharge amnesty program, I'm informed that my surcharge isn't for drug possession, but for DWLS, a charge I rec'd 18 months later! So my license WASN'T suspended when I was ticketed? Regardless, being disabled, on a fixed income, I can't possibly afford $156 before April 17 and pay full rent and utilities! If anyone would like to contribute, contact me: welovejoshua@yahoo.com

A Texas PO said...

I've been telling my probation clients about this program since I first learned about the amnesty, but getting probationers to call a number is like trying to skin a live cat. The website is a great tool for probation officers to utilize when probationers are in the office. You can pull up the driving record and the site will show you exactly what you owe in surcharges and if you qualify for the amnesty. Great thing about it, you can click "Enroll" for your probationer and Bam! They're enrolled! How cool is that? Plus, the confirmation page displays the reduced amount they will have to pay by April 17th. This all takes 2 minutes and is definitely worth the time to get at least some of these folks past this hurdle and back on the road legally. Imagine what this could do for our insurance rates!

Anonymous said...

Has there been a date announced to begin signing up for the indigency program?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:14, I'm told the indigency program starts "soon after" amnesty is over, but to my knowledge no definitive date has been announced.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I hope you will post it as soon as you know something. This is pretty much the only source of information on the subject.

Anonymous said...

as a former RIO specialist who is now jobless as of April 15th...one of my job duties was to inform inmates of the amnesty program as obviously a large portion of them owe those surcharges. They were given the info & were told to write home to their families w/ pertinent info. Whether they did or not remains to be seen but that is where a portion of those drivers are...Prison.

Anonymous said...

Trying to call, they are unable to take my call at this time, told me to try later.

Anonymous said...

Texas amnesty program upsets DWI offenders who paid surcharges

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/state/headlines/20110306-texas-amnesty-program-upsets-dwi-offenders-who-paid-surcharges.ece