Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Petition for new 'driver responsibility' rules filed today

I've got to leave town this morning and blogging will be light for the next few days. But I wanted to let readers know that the last thing I'll be doing before rolling northward on I-35 will be to file a petition for rulemaking with the new Executive Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety requesting amendments to DPS rules governing the so-called "Driver Responsibility" surcharge.

To my knowledge, this will make Grits the first blog ever, certainly in Texas, to formally participate in state agency rulemaking in such a direct way. By submitting a petition with 25 signatures, under state law the Public Safety Commission is required to at least give the issue a public hearing.

While I'd hoped to have this filed by last week, we received excellent input from several quarters, most notably from Amanda Marzullo and Andrea Marsh at the Texas Fair Defense Project who helped a lot fine tuning the details. Several reader suggestions were also incorporated, as were some changes suggested by a collections expert with the Office of Court Administration.

With these modifications, I feel quite pleased with the results. This petition puts forth a solid proposal that will waive fees for indigent drivers, create incentives that boost program compliance, give amnesty in older cases (when drivers can demonstrate insurance coverage), and generally reduce the number of people driving with no insurance and suspended licenses.

We're talking about a lot of folks: 6% of Texas drivers currently owe the surcharge, and hundreds of thousands of them have had their licenses revoked for nonpayment.

Signators on the physical petition included state Rep. Sylvester Turner, the author of the amendment requiring DPS to create an Indigency Program. He also wrote a letter clarifying the legislative intent behind his amendment: "The canons of legislative interpretation do not allow the agency to construe the requirements of Section 6 [requiring creation of an indigency program] as meaningless," he stated. "The Public Safety Comission must create an Indigency Program by Sept. 1, 2009." (Emphasis in original.)

Other signators on the petition included representatives from the Texas Fair Defense Project, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, the Equal Justice Center, the Justice Project, and the ACLU of Texas.

I've uploaded both the petition and the new rules being proposed onto Google documents. Give 'em a read, if you're interested.

There are five members of the Public Safety Commission who will decide whether to approve these rules, and DPS has published snail mail addresses for each of them on its website. Those who want to support the amendments may send letters to these commissioners via snail mail (which makes more of an impression than electronic communication anyway). Later on there will be an opportunity to submit formal comments to the agency regarding the rules.

The proposal must be published in the Texas Register before the Public Safety Commission can hold a public hearing, so I'll keep readers informed as we go along on where we are in the process and what else you can do to help.



R. Shackleford said...

Excellent start, sir. Now, what can we do to help get this thing abolished once and for all? In my book, this is just another unfair taxation, and one that puts a huge burden on the very people who clearly have more trouble than they can handle to begin with. I'll even pony up some funds to help. Sad that it takes money to change an unjust taxation scheme, but that's our broke ass system for you.

Anonymous said...

Great job, Scott. Too bad you can't assess them a fee for doing so much of their homework!

Anonymous said...

Scott you are my hero.

Tamara S. said...

Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

I take it Mike Krusee didn't sign on ?

Anonymous said...

I recently gave a person a ride to court and consequently sat through a bizarre scenario of what seemed to be a Judge giving instruction to the defendant in a manner that was obvious to me, being given in order to induce the defendant to plead guilty. The judge appeared to show empathy towards the defendant’s financial problems and repeated on several occasions the consequences of choosing (a not guilty VS a guilty plea), and apparently felt the defendant would be best served by pleading guilty.

The defendant is truly burdened financially, and recently lost employment due to lay off.

The defendant is literally within days of being homeless.

After a back and forth of Judge to defendant, with an occasional input from the prosecutor that was difficult for me to determine true intent, but did in fact seem to show sympathy to the plight of the defendant, a plea changed from several of not guilty to a guilty plea on all charges.

Afterwards, the Judge accepted the guilty plea on all charges and began giving the defendant a laundry list of requirements, all of which required the defendant to pay large amounts of money in a very small amount of time. This will be impossible for the defendant to accomplish.

There were circumstances surrounding each charge that in my opinion were defensible. I am not an attorney so my opinion may very well be without merit.

The defendant truly had no understanding of what was being explained from the bench, or remarks from the prosecution. The mental stability of the defendant is the root cause for the original citations, and these mental medical health problems can be demonstrated to be real through medical history.

Had the defendant had any true understanding of what was taking place I think in this particular instance a court appointed attorney would have been part of the proper course of action, and this may not have occurred.

Now the financial burden of simply trying to stay off of the street is compounded by fees and surcharges that represent impending doom to the defendant’s mental well being.

What qualifies a person for indecency?

Anonymous said...

What qualifies a person for indigence? sorry typing and hit the auto correct without paying attention.

AM said...

A defendant is indigent if he is "not financially able to employ counsel." Tex Code Crim Proc 1.051 (b). Each county is required to adopt a written plan that specifies how they will determine whether a defendant is indigent. Those plans are available at

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Actually under these rules "indigency" is determined differently than for appointed counsel. HB 2730 (the DPS sunset bill) gave specific benchmarks to be used. From the rules:

Any one of the following pieces documentation may be used as proof of eligibility for a surcharge waiver due to indigence:

* A copy of your federal income-tax return that shows that your household income does not exceed 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
* A copy of your most recent state of wages that shows that your income or your household’s income does not exceed 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines; or
* Documentation from a federal agency, state agency, or school district that indicates that you or any of your dependants receive assistance from the following agencies. If you are a dependent, you may qualify by submitting proof that you or the taxpayer claiming you as a dependant qualify for this assistance:
- The food stamp program or temporary assistance for needy families (TANF);
- The federal special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC);
- A medical assistance program such as Medicaid or Managed Care;
- The child health plan program (CHIP); or
- The national free or reduced-price lunch program.

jim said...

Great work Scott! It is about time something is done about this ridiculous situation. Maybe you can assess a surcharge for them!