Monday, January 23, 2017

Senate committee wimps out on driver surcharge abolition

In its interim report, the Texas Senate Transportation Committee surprisingly recommended various technical methods for reducing Driver Responsibility surcharge costs - including expanding the offenses to which the program applies in order to lower the cost of each surcharge - rather than suggesting how to abolish them. According to the report, "Due to fiscal consequences, an all-out repeal would not be plausible and the legislator [sic] should consider perhaps looking closely at phasing the driver responsibility program into a points system while leaving Driving While Intoxicated (DWIs) as the lone program to collect the existing surcharges."

Grits calls the recommendation "surprising" because in 2015, that committee passed legislation to abolish the surcharge. In the interim report, four of the nine members added letters to say they disagreed with the recommendation not to abolish the DRP. Many of the proposals listed have been kicked around in the past by hospital interests which receive the money, so these are recommendations on behalf of the recipients of the funds, not the general public who are paying.

By contrast, Sen. Don Huffines wrote in his dissent on the DRP:
the state cannot continue to justify programs that are uneccessarily onerous to Texans merely based  on the revenue thatthese programs generate for the state. To do so would be the antithesis of a limited government philosophy that we should espouse at every turn, where we act on the belief that dollars that stay in the private sector are better spent or invested by families and job creators than they are by state government. It is neither conservative nor compassionate to insist that a debtors' prison, such as the DRP, should be perpetuated to provide a strictly punitive, immoral, and entirely unreliable revenue source for government.
Sen. Bob Hall wrote that the committee's recommendations "would be seen by many Texans as a side-stepping of major issues and a complete dismissal of the fact that less than half of the fines and penalties derived from the DRP are being allocated to the Designated Trauma account, complaining that, "The report itself gives only cursory acknowledgement at best to concerns with the program's impact on low income Texans and divergence from the initial intent of the legislation." Grits agrees with both those critiques.

Don't get me wrong: Moving no-insurance and invalid license cases into the point system instead of keeping them as standalone surcharges would be better than a sharp stick in the eye, especially if they also included provisions to eliminate surcharges through community service and mandated another amnesty, to help all the people screwed over by this misbegotten program in the past. But Huffines and Hall are right that abolition should be the goal.

Nobody wants to de-fund the hospitals, so to cover the amount they've been receiving the Lege needs to come up with around $80 million per year. In a budget the size of Texas' even in a tight fiscal climate, that is not an insurmountable task; it's a function of whether legislators possess the political will. Budgets are moral documents. And failing to abolish the Driver Responsibility surcharge after one is educated about the harm it causes is an immoral choice.

RELATED: From Just Liberty: Encourage your Texas senators to abolish the Driver Responsibility surcharge.


KBCraig said...

I know someone who was whacked with a DRP penalty more than 10 years ago. She drives without a license to this day, because she can’t afford to pay off Texas.

Her license from her previous state of residence had expired right as she was moving to Texas. Not suspended, just expired.

She was stopped while driving a properly registered and insured car with current Texas tags. I forget the reason for the stop, but she didn’t even receive a ticket for that. Instead, she was ticketed for driving without a valid license.

After paying that ticket, many months later she received a notice in the mail that her driving privileges in Texas would be suspended unless she paid (IIRC) $750 per year for three years. And even though she had never held a Texas DL, and had never applied for one, they administratively issued her a Texas DL and suspended it. She assumes that if she ever applies for a license wherever she lives, it will be rejected until she pays Texas more than two grand over a ticket that only cost a couple hundred bucks.

The DRP needs to die, completely.

Anonymous said...

Posted on FB to 430 friends

Anonymous said...

Here's a question: in 2015, DPS promised the 84th Lege they would hold another round of amnesty. The 85th Lege is now seated and still no amnesty. What's the deal, DPS? And why didn't this come up in the Committee hearing?

I've been working with probationers to get their licenses valid due to past failures to clear up tickets, etc., but there comes a point where the surcharges serve no purpose other than to keep people in a system of debt. Plus reinstatement fees? That tastes like triple jeopardy.

Anonymous said...

Yes it needs to be abolished but Texas Legislators are in bed with the Hospital Trauma units! Not only does surcharges/failure to appear and reinstatement fees need to be abolished but DPS also makes those offenders lose their DL one to two years! This has become such a Big Monster that I don't think we will ever be able to dissolve it! Every year we have hearings and nothing is ever accomplished!

So these offenders are never able to pay off tickets, surcharges and reinstatement fees but they still need to drive the kids to school, go to the store and go to work! They are no longer afraid of jail time! They also can't afford insurance!

I think some big wig lawyer needs to sue the DPS and maybe they can kill the big Monster!

john said...

Will youse guys never understand you are slaves to the political-class/"legal"/"law enforcement" industry???!!
They are there to get paid more too much. That's all. NO "representation," nearly NO "protect and serve."
Sociopaths float; sociopaths happen.
Texas anti-Constitutional drive/road/license setup is their massive gold mine, effectively personal ATMs. They make up policy and live outside the written law.
The We The Dirt Poor People can just eat dirt.

David said...

The Flying Lizards in 1979 wrote a great song: "I want money". Hmmm, wonder if that has anything to do with this issue?

Anonymous said...

I agree, John 11:20:00 am. The system has gotten so corrupt, filled with administrative fees and fines. Why would they kill this cash cow? The poor and middle class have no way to fight the system.

Anonymous said...

The only way we can fight is to continue to call and write them, and ultimately vote them out of office - which should have already happened. I may be a republican, but this goes well beyond my conservative thought process. Texas has become too republican. It seems every session they pass some sort of law which clearly violates the US Constitution - and they don't even care what the consequences are.... but this DRP is nothing but a prime time example of genuine hard headed political non-sense and the only way I can see it changing is if we find the incumbent on our ballots and vote for the other guy regardless of their party. Enough is enough.

He's Innocent said...

" Texas has become too republican. It seems every session they pass some sort of law which clearly violates the US Constitution - and they don't even care what the consequences are...."
"the only way I can see it changing is if we find the incumbent on our ballots and vote for the other guy regardless of their party. Enough is enough."

OMG, if only we had more reasonable Republicans such as Anon@11:35 who believe this state has gone bonkers with the conservative thought process.

Anonymous said...

While I don't think the law is unconstitutional, I believe it to be bad policy. When I discussed it with a state senator the other day, he told me that any serious changes to the law were "off the table for this session", and presumably future sessions if he had his way. When mentioning anecdotal comments about people driving without a license because of it, his retort was, and this is paraphrasing it: "I bet they drive a darn sight better now" to stay out of further trouble. As I switched topics, he threw in some choice comments about "lefties" being able to distort the very real good the law has done, but he fell short of mentioning Grits.

With this kind of mindset in Austin, I doubt we will see major changes for years, too many people supportive of his way of thought.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If you don't mind, 5:01, shoot me an email at and let me know a few more details about your conversation.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:35- it is not to any party because both are the same, it is called greed. Term limits!

Anonymous said...

I presently have a person staying with me that has had surcharges on their back for over 10 years. She is indigent and I'm trying to help her get on her feet. Trying to get some of surcharges reduced with the indigence program is futile we found out. Though she has no income at present. These SOBs the state has contracted to shake these people down wanted copies of my pay stubs. Though I am no relation to her, nor is she my dependent, they wanted pay stubs from people she was staying with. And had the nerve to say they wouldn't run a credit check on me. This whole thing is insane. Trying to shake down a person who is supplying a roof for a person that has been caught up in this. They have no right at all to my pay stubs or trying to get in my personal business for helping someone out. Their greed and evil intent isn't justified by any means.