As originally drafted, Rep. Ryan Guillen’s HB 588 would allow those who are financially able to pay 100% of their three-year Driver Responsibility Surcharges up front instead of paying once annually or on an installment plan. However, long-time readers will recall that last year the Public Safety Commission, which is the governing body for the Department of Public Safety, approved rules for a more aggressive “Incentive Program” (which was itself authorized by 2007 legislation carried by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden). If implemented, those rules would allow anyone assessed with a surcharge to discharge their obligation by paying a one-time sum in the amount of:
- 50% of all three years of surcharges assessed for each offense if payment is made within 30 days.
- 60% of all three years of surcharges assessed for each offense if payment is made within 60 days.
- 70% of all three years of surcharges assessed for each offense if payment is made within 90 days.
Since its inception, the Driver Responsibility program has caused more than 1.9 million Texans to lose their drivers licenses for nonpayment, 1.2 million of whom still haven't gotten their licenses back. Almost all continue to drive, just without a license or liability insurance. Prosecutors and judges even blame the surcharge for a precipitous drop in DWI convictions. A just-ended amnesty program helped more than 110,000 drivers regain their licenses, but it wasn't very well publicized and thousands more surcharges are assessed every week. Going forward, for many of those drivers the incentive program will be a godsend. Given that, while I'd prefer the program be abolished, as half-loaves go I'm pretty happy with this one.