Thursday, February 18, 2010

New Driver Responsibility rules unveiled today at DPS

Despite recent coverage in the Dallas News declaring proposed amendments to the Driver Responsibility surcharge had been dropped, the Public Safety Commission today will take up proposed revisions to the rules, which haven't yet been publicly released. I'm headed up there to hear the presentation later today on their revised proposal. Here's their meeting agenda (pdf).

UPDATE (5:14): Despite concerns expressed by key commissioners that they were too weak, the Public Safety Commission today approved publication in the Texas Register of a scaled back version of new indigency rules. I couldn't get a copy today, but in the public presentation by Drivers License division chief Michael Kelly, eligibility under today's proposal would be limited to those who:
  • Are at 125% or below of federal poverty levels
  • Submit supporting documentation (yet to be determined)
  • Provide proof of insurance
  • Make a one-time payment per surcharge owed ($500 for DWI; $250 for no insurance, $150 for no drivers license)
Unfortunately, that's a radically scaled back program compared to what Kelly suggested to the PSC last summer. But commissioners emphasized that they may decide to strengthen the proposal depending on what came out in the public hearing and comment period.

Kelly said the proposal had been revised because the comptroller told them it would not be budget neutral - calculations which to my knowledge have not been made public. I'd really like to see those, because as far as I can tell, collection rates are already so low there's a good chance a broader amnesty program would significantly improve collections.

Right now, DPS collects just 37% of Driver Responsibility surcharges owed, which is actually higher than other states (New Jersey's similar surcharge has a 25% collection rate, the commission was told.) What's more, after several months sending debtor-drivers more strongly worded collections-oriented letters, which had been touted as a way to increase returns, there was no significant increase at all and collection rates remained at 37%, commissioners were told today.

That means that 63% of those owing surcharges (a number which accumulates over time) aren't paying anything at all. If expanding an amnesty program beyond 125% of poverty (as DPS staff suggested last summer) enabled a significant percentage of those folks to pay the reduced fee, that's actually money coming in the door that the state wouldn't otherwise see.

What's more, there's more economic harm done by the surcharge than just to the state budget. Drivers who lose their license because of surcharges can't buy insurance. (Roughly 25% of Texas drivers are uninsured.) So any economic analysis should include on the debit side of the ledger the costs from accidents involving uninsured motorists facing unaffordable surcharges. Ditto for costs to county jails and court for processing the increasingly vast number of no-insurance, no-driver license cases. Taking that factor into account, the cost-benefit analysis becomes a no-brainer.

But whether or not collections increase or decline, in the bigger picture there are many, many other good reasons to aggressively expand an amnesty program beyond the minimalist suggestions released today. It just creates too many problems, as Texas prosecutors have been saying for years. On this question, I happen to agree with Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, who once wrote that:
Regardless how we measure the program, it is a disaster. It is a taxation masquerading as a public safety initiative. It probably has more negatives (jail, prosecution, uninsured drivers, etc.) than positives (money in the state's coffers). Unfortunately, the costs are hidden in county and city budgets.
Looking atomistically at bottom line revenues for the Driver Responsibility program ignores these broader social costs and the best interests of the public overall. Thankfully, the Commissioners in their discussion seemed to understand that this minimalist approach wouldn't do enough, and openly discussed the possibility of strengthening the rules, depending on the recommendations received in the public hearing.

More on this after I see the actual proposed rules. I'll let folks know when they're posted and the
public hearing set, and encourage anyone interested to submit comments or attend the hearing

See related Grits posts:


Unknown said...

I have been without my DL since 2004 because of the DRS. I am a single mother of two and simply can't afford to pay the $350.00 a month for 3 years. I DID pay my fines and have not driven at all in the past 6 years. What I don't understand is why can't these expire after so many years OR at least let me do community service to "work" it off? As many others have said this really has ruined my life. I just want to be able to fix it! But the ammount they are asking is well out of my reach. I would be more than happy to pay if it was an ammount I could afford... Like $50-75 a month.

Unknown said...

Exactly Christy, Iam also in your situation(7 yrs no tickets, no license), except they want 600/month from me! LETS ALL SHOW UP IN FULL FORCE AT THE PUBLIC HEARING! Thanks Grits for keeping us updated!

Anonymous said...

WHY can't people be responsible in the first place? Most Texans have to carry extra insurance, which hits their budgets, since these losers won't carry their own insurance? I'm tired of carring these worthless people who are so irresponsible. Every time I do drive I have to worry about being hit by some loser that won't carry car or personal insurance or any type of insurance. Stop the rip off.,....they all have excuses. I have to work and cover my family....make them do the same responsible for a change!

Anonymous said...

I have a 20 year old son who got a DWI 2 years ago. He has not driven a car since and will not for another couple of years as a student. He uses a State ID rather than a license and does not plan to buy auto insurance while his only ride is by bicycle or as a passenger.

According to this proposal, he would have to purchase insurance? A lack of insurance was never an issue in his case. In order to meet these terms he has to become more indigent by buying a policy he does not need?

I guess he could buy a policy and then cancel it.

Anonymous said...

Glad you continue to cover this issue. The charge is way out of line and is primarily a tax on people who have low income and no other means of transportation; kinda similar to debtors prison that the founders of Texas prohibited.$3000.00 is simply way out of line for a first offense and no aggravating circumstances. If the State wants to raise money just add to the tax on alcohol or find a way to reach the alcohol distributors--thats were the money is--but also the lobbyists.
I agee with John Bradley's comments in your article. Glad you are keeping up this this topic. We all want impaired drivers off the street, but this is not the way to do it. This is just another tax.

Charlie O said...

Anon. 7:45. It's NOT about having insurance. The surcharges are for accumulation of points. Then, when you can't pay the surcharge, your license is suspended, and no one will SELL you insurance. I don't even live in Texas and I understand the problem. Get a clue why don'tcha? And I just know, here comes the self-righteous bungholes who will tell you, "well if you don't get any tickets you won't have this problem." Join the real world.

Tamara said...

Thank you for the updates! The program needs to be repealed completely, it is such a scam! Let me know if the petition can help. We are almost at 4,000 sig. Thanks again!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Tamara, how many of those 4,000 do you have email for? It'd be great to notify them when the hearing date is set.

Anonymous said...

Anon: 7:45,

I hope that you thank God every day, as I do, that you are able to work and pay your bills and that you have "budget" that meets your needs. Unfortunately, everyone is not that fortunate. Sometimes by their own fault and sometimes by no fault of their own people end up in difficult situations.

The lack of compassion and just plain hostility to people who are less fortunate that many in our society exhibit never ceases to amaze me. We should all remember the old saying: "There but by the grace of God, go I". You may think you can never end up in some of the bad situations you ses others in but you are wrong. Something beyond your control could happen tomorrow and you could lose everything.

Be thankful for what you have and have compassion on those who don't have what you have. I agree that people should be responsible but these outrageous fees amount to just kicking someone when they are down. I wish the people of Texas were better than that, but, the reality is that they are not.

Anonymous said...

Chrisy, you need to be more responsible and learn about birth control while at it.Have fun but be more responsible, as most of us do.

Hook Em Horns said...

We would be much better off if Texans understood that the law applies to everyone, not everyone else.

Jobs for Felons in Texas said...

Never been in this situation, personally, but I do hear about the enormous toll these fees and fines can have upon people who are simply trying to get their lives on track. It's too bad that Texas tries to keep people down rather than creating a viable path for recovery.

Anonymous said...

Is the municipal services corporation now handling the collection of dps surcharges instead of dps? If this is the case, isn't there a conflict of interest since MSC may use information collected from people who are trying to pay their surcharge, to collect for other MSC clients? If the latter is the case, and i don't know if it is, it may result in lower surcharge collections and an exacerbation of an already bad situation. Anyone know?

Elizabeth said...

First, anon 8:04.. that comment to Christy was uncalled for and assuming you are a grown person, you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. Second, I am a divorced mother of three, one of whom is disabled, was working full time in the oilfield, and doing my best to take care of my children. I had a joint policy with a long time family friend to save money on the car insurance. I would pay my half to him and he would take that and his half to pay the insurance. We had been doing that for years. He got notice from his family right before one of the payments were to be made, and had to leave on a major family emergency,and he forgot to pay before leaving. I did not even know the payment hadn't been made. I got pulled over on my way to work, and received my first ever ticket. I paid my fine through the county and was told there would be no further fees/fines to pay. A few months later, I got a notice in the mail stating that my license was suspended and I had to pay $260per year for the next three years. My son's disability has become worse and I am no longer able to work as I am his sole caregiver. I cannot afford this expense any longer (our annual income is now $11,160) and losing my ability to drive will be very, very hard on us. We live outside city limits where public transportation is not available. I don't know how I will get my son to his Dr., pharmacy, and meetings, much less fulfilling normal needs. Why on Earth must the punishment be so steep on those who are NOT repeat offenders, were NOT trying to "slide by" the law, and have done the best they can to be a positive, contributing part of society??