Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Defining an 'undue hardship': Updating last session's debtors-prison reform bill

The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday heard HB 465 (White), which is update legislation from debtors-prison reform legislation (HB351/SB1913) passed in 2017. (Attentive readers may recall that, when he laid out HB 351, state Rep. Terry Canales told the committee that the ideas in his legislation originated with a post on this blog!) Despite predictions two years ago that collections would plummet and indigent drivers wouldn't be held accountable, the opposite occurred: collections actually increased when some of the most regressive collections tactics were abandoned.

But the 2017 legislation only made a small dent in the problem. While there was an uptick in fines waived and community service granted, far more people (more than half a million) satisfied their fines through "jail credit" - i.e., they were incarcerated in lieu of payment.

Readers may also recall that, at their state conventions in June, both the Republican Party of Texas and the Texas Democratic Party included provisions in their platforms calling for an end to jailing drivers for non-payment of traffic tickets and other Class C misdemeanor debt, switching to commercial collections methods, instead.

HB 465 does not go that far. (White's HB 2754 comes much closer; more about that bill soon). Rather, HB 465 demands that judges take into account defendants' ability to pay, authorizing them to waive fines or order community service if penalties create an "undue hardship," a phrase which is defined more broadly in the bill than in the past. The changes would bump up usage of fine waivers and community service in lieu of incarceration, but leave the fundamental "pay or we jail you" structure of the system intact for most drivers. Regardless, it's a good bill making important improvements to a regressive, dysfunctional collections process.

Here's a fact sheet from the Texas Fair Defense Project and Texas Appleseed supporting the bill.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think this calls for more Grits Awesome Shirt testimony at the Legislature!

All those for say "Aye"
All those opposed can go to Oklahoma

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that the people have a right to travel and the codes, rules, and regulations are guide lines for Commercial Drivers. Am I wrong?

A finance company that owns your title is Commercial, correct?

If you have a vehicle free & clear, do these Commercial codes, rules, and regulations apply?
of course you must do no harm to others, so you must carry insurance.

Anonymous said...

Only if the Reptilian Admiral who issued it gives you change for your payment in gold Texican dollars and doesn't print YOUR NAME in all caps...

But that might just be the chem trails talking

Anonymous said...

Why does the MVD refuse to renew registrations and/or drivers license's for so called child support payments, supposedly owed?

How can that be justified for child support supposedly owed when the Courts gave full custody to a mother that does not want to support her own children? A leach on society living with another man.

Causing a hardship is not justice.

Anonymous said...

In this time in history, it is a necessity to drive a vehicle (travel) for survival (doctor, groceries,fuel,family). The DMV is causing a hardship on the people when the DMV is supposed to regulate Commercial travel (commerce) for the people, not against the people. Most Public Employees have dishonored their Oath of Office and nobody holds them accountable.