Gonzales' bill is just the latest in a years-long campaign by critics to put an end to a program they say is ineffective and unfair. But the program also provides millions of dollars to trauma centers across Texas, and the specter of eliminating those funds has emergency care providers worried.This is not a new idea, but support for it is growing. Judges routinely deride the "devastating" effects of the surcharge on the court system. A focus group of criminal justice experts convened by the Legislative Budget Board last fall "voiced support for ending or reforming the Driver Responsibility Program (DRP), which provides significant financial burden on DWI (and other) offenders with seemingly little to no public safety enhancement." The original bill author has said it was a mistake and Mothers Against Drunk Driving has said they won't mind if it's repealed. Even DPS Executive Director Steve McCraw finds no public safety benefit in the program. It's really just a scheme to mulct drivers low-income drivers, too often catching them in a slippery slope of perverse financial incentives that promote unlicensed, uninsured driving more than discouraging it, not to mention joblessness and declining DWI conviction rates.
"It would have a huge impact on the trauma system as we know it," said Dinah Welsh, CEO of the Texas EMS, Trauma and Acute Care Foundation.
The program has generated about $751 million for the state since its creation in 2003. About half of that has gone to the state's general revenue fund.
About $381 million of the program's revenue, though, has gone to the Designated Trauma Facility and Medical Service Account. The fund, created in 2004 and administered by the Texas Department of State Health Services, helps offset the costs of emergency care hospitals provide for patients who cannot afford to pay for it.
Grits has written a great deal on this subject and no doubt will have more to say in the future. But for now let me say I wholeheartedly endorse Rep. Gonzales' bill and wish him all the best with it. Readers should contact your state representative and ask them to support and co-sponsor it. For more background on why the Driver Responsibility Surcharge should be abolished and trauma centers funded through a more reliable source, probably state general revenue, see these prior, related Grits posts:
- Did the Driver Responsibility Surcharge cause Texas' voter ID law to be rejected?
- Few defendants getting surcharges waived by judges based on indigence
- Grits to DPS: Enact incentive rules for Driver Responsibility surcharge now
- Amendment tells DPS: Implement incentive rules for Driver Responsibility surcharge
- Hospitals: Driver Responsibility surcharge an unreliable funding source
- What's the one thing John Whitmire and Leo Berman have in common?
- Declining DWI convictions and the unmitigated failure of the Driver Responsibility surcharge
- Federal suit filed to declare Driver Responsibility surcharge unconstitutional
- DPS Director: No public safety benefit from Driver Responsibility Surcharge
- Prosecutors altering charging decisions to avoid Driver Responsibility surcharge
- Driver surcharge boosting Texas joblessness
- Unexplored costs from DPS surcharge harm safety, the economy
- Driver Responsibility surcharge 'devastating' for court system
- Bill author says 'overly punitive' Driver Responsibility surcharge a 'mistake'