El Paso drivers appear to lead the state in the number surcharges they're hit with.Despite the staggering figures presented in the chart on the right, Pickett seems unwilling to contemplate full-on abolition of the surcharge. "I'm not proposing to scrap the program," he told Schladen, "I'm just trying to make it more effective." Regrettably, this program will never be "effective." Enacted in only seven states during a flurry around the turn of the century, two have already repealed similar laws, reported Schladen.
In a DPS listing of the 10 Texas ZIP codes with the most surcharges, four were in El Paso. Of the 538,000 surcharges on the list, almost half -- 236,000 -- were for El Paso drivers.
Besides the preponderance of El Paso zip codes, Dallas County stands out from the pack. Plus, clearly many zip codes outside the top ten still have tens of thousands of people liable for surcharges. These are enormous numbers of voting-age Texans we're talking about. If Grits were still advising political campaigns, I'd suggest state rep and senate candidates make abolishing the surcharge a campaign issue: Get the lists of surcharge-owing drivers under open records from DPS, match them to the voter rolls, and target those drivers for voter registration and/or GOTV with messages saying they'd try to abolish it if elected.
Last month, the Texas Department of Public Safety offered recommendations for streamlining the program and improving collections in a document Grits recently acquired under the Public Information Act (see here). Some suggestions may be beneficial to drivers while others are merely aimed at mulcting the maximum amounts from them. These ideas, summarized below, were clearly not intended to all be implemented together but are atomic proposals designed to be broken out into piecemeal reforms. Most would require statutory changes in 2015:
- Eliminate (instead of merely reduce) surcharges for drivers under 125% of the poverty level.
- Allow DPS to share social security numbers with the collections vendor.
- Apply recent extensions of installment plans to older cases.
- Develop a "tiered settlement" program to collect lower amounts on older surcharges.
- Allow DPS to access address information from the Department of Insurance and vehicle registration sources.
- Simplify/clarify language about surcharges on the citation and require courts to both provide information about the surcharges and reduction programs at the time of conviction.
- Expand the military deferral program to include surcharges for DWIs and too many points.
- Allow DPS to change the surcharge amounts for various categories of offenders.
- Require probation or deferred adjudication of all first offenses for Driving With License Invalid. (This offense was already lowered from a Class B to a Class C offense because it was overwhelming local jails.)
- Lowering all the surcharge amounts and applying them for only one year instead of three.
- Expand the incentive program to "include reductions for compliance with the law or rehabilitation." (This could be done by agency rule.)
- Impose additional consequences such as "liens against property, intercepting IRS refunds and lottery winnings, denying passports, placing non-payers on probation, requesting jail time and collecting unclaimed property from the Comptroller."
- Allow drivers to make cash payments through wire transfer stores.
- Allow community service in lieu of surcharges.
- Make the No Insurance, DWLI and No Drivers License surcharges part of the point system, leaving DWIs as the only conviction-based surcharge. (This should have been much higher up in their potential effectiveness rankings!)
- Authorize the vendor to receive "tiered compensation" for older surcharges.
- Eliminate the notarization requirement for application to the DPS indigency program.
- Waive installment plan fees under the indigency program.
- Combine installment plan fees for customers paying on multiple surcharges.
- Implement another Amnesty program, this time actually promoting it aggressively and advertising it in the media. (DPS should not wait for the Lege to tell them to do this!)
- Allow customers to submit payments through PayPal.
- Advertise the names of drivers with licenses suspended for non-payment of surcharges. (DPS says this would help with notification but it seems to me like a suggestion for public shaming).
- Allow drivers to apply for occupational licenses through an online portal without having to hire an attorney.
See prior, related Grits posts:
- DPS announces 'incentive program' rollout on driver surcharges
- Be thankful: Incentive program all the fix we're getting for now on surcharges
- Lege committee looking to tweak Driver Responsibility program; incentive program about to gear up
- Piling on: TPPF offers more reasons to abolish Driver Responsibility surcharge
- House rep promotes abolition of Driver Responsibility surcharge
- Is 2013 the year legislators axe Orwellian-named Driver Responsibility surcharge?
- 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'