Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Surcharge Amnesty pushed off till late next year

Grits learned yesterday that Texas DPS, which during session said they planned to do another Amnesty program for the Driver Responsibility surcharge by the end of the year, has now pushed that back until "the end of the new year (2016)."

Since reform legislation on this subject died an ignominious death in 2015, there's nothing in the law making them do this. But they promised House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee Chairman Larry Phillips they'd do another Amnesty, so presumably the agency wants to keep that pledge before the next legislative session in 2017. There's no reason, though, they shouldn't do it immediately. Why wait?

Meanwhile, over the weekend Eric Dexheimer at the Austin Statesman had a story (Oct. 3) detailing the travails of a family whose vehicle was hit by an uninsured driver. The article included this discussion of the Driver Responsibility surcharge and its role boosting rates of uninsured and unlicensed motorists.
policies promoted by Texas lawmakers also have produced more illegal drivers than otherwise would exist.

The Texas Driver Responsibility Program was passed in 2003 with the promise of raising money for the then-cash-strapped government and making roads safer. It levies civil surcharges against people who are convicted of driving without a license or insurance, or driving while intoxicated, or who are habitual traffic offenders. The fees are on top of any criminal fines and court costs defendants pay.

The fees, which with nonpayment penalties that can quickly escalate into thousands of dollars, create a cycle that unnecessarily makes and keeps drivers illegal, said Emily Gerrick of Texas Fair Defense Project, which has advocated repealing the program. Many can’t pay — about 60 percent of the surcharges go uncollected — so they simply continue to drive illegally because they must. Others living paycheck to paycheck may stop buying insurance to cover their fines — meaning they, too, eventually lose their licenses.

According to the Department of Public Safety, more than 1.3 million Texas drivers currently have their licenses suspended through the surcharge program. The top reason, said Gerrick: fees for driving without insurance and driving without a license.

The program “is actually putting more cars on the road without licenses — making public safety more dangerous,” she said.

It has been such a failure that one of the lawmakers who created it recently begged the Legislature to trash it.

“This program was never intended to cause as much harm as it has to Texas families,” Mike Krusee, who represented Williamson County in the 1990s and early 2000s, wrote in May. “For many individuals, the program has dramatically and negatively impacted their ability to work and has resulted in more unlicensed and uninsured drivers on the road.”

Yet hospitals, which are recipients of the surcharge fees, have successfully lobbied politicians to keep the program alive.

“We recognize the funding mechanism is not ideal,” said John Hawkins of the Texas Hospital Association. But, he added, until lawmakers figure out how to replace the money, the industry will continue to oppose the surcharge program’s repeal.


Anonymous said...

Krussee's reversal may have been influenced when he himself was charged with DWI. Of course with him being a republican politician his DWI was dismissed by a fellow republican. https://www.dui.com/blog/judge-dismisses-texas-dwi-against-former-lawmaker-mike-krusee/

Anonymous said...

Is it just me or does the Texas Lege have a knack for authoring and then passing laws that turn many otherwise law abiding citizens into criminals? Seems like they do it and if it gets too controversial, rescind it and act like it wasn't their fault.

quash said...

In the hierarchy of laws there's just no getting around the Law of Unintended Consequences.

johntall said...

When the vocal majority realize that surcharges are causing THEIR uninsured/under-insured coverage to skyrocket just to give politicians in Austin more money to spend,.... action will be taken.

Texas politicians are not good at fixing bad laws that "sound" like they should be good. Who can be opposed to fining people that drink and drive or illegally drive on OUR streets?

But once the Rotary/Kiwanas/Moose/Elks/etc. start asking, "Did you support that bill that has caused my insurance premiums to spike and has made the uninsured driver problem worse? Politicians start acting. The problem has to threaten their re-election in order to matter.

Anonymous said...

Who do we contact to see if we are eligible for the program?

Anonymous said...

Is there any more info and when the amnesty will begin? This was 2015 its now 2 months left to 2016.