Friday, March 05, 2010

Indigency rules for Driver Responsibility surcharge published in Texas Register

There's good news and bad news on proposed reforms to the Driver Responsibility Surcharge.

The good news: The Department of Public Safety today published proposed rule changes in the Texas Register to establish the first-ever indigency program for the surcharge.

The bad news: DPS has dramatically scaled back their original proposal last summer, and the Public Safety Commission will need to provide staff additional direction if the rules are to improve as much as is really needed.

Still, even the minimalist indigency program DPS proposed is a big improvement over what was in place before, which was nothing. What's more, at the last PSC meeting, commissioners made it clear they weren't wedded to the language and may strengthen the proposal based on what they hear at the public hearing. That would require reissuing the rules and holding a second public hearing later this year, but agency rulemaking is not a quick turnaround process. DPS staff had been stalling the rules for months, and at this point commissioners said they just wanted to get the process started.

Now that the rules have been published, there will be a 30-day period for them to accept public comments, then a public hearing before the issue goes back to the Public Safety Commission. (Those who are interested in submitting written comments may submit them to Rebekah Hibbs, Driver License Division, Texas Department of Public Safety, P.O. Box 4087 (MSC 0300), Austin, Texas 78773; by fax to (512) 424-5233; or by email to )

Obviously I'll be writing much more about this between now and then, but wanted to get the news out as soon as I heard it. Regular readers know I'm particularly pleased at this decision because, even though the Lege gave them authority to enact indigency and amnesty programs in 2007, the PSC only began to seriously consider the issue after a citizens' petition which was organized from this blog with the help of the good folks at the Texas Fair Defense Project and submitted to the Public Safety Commission last summer. So I feel a personal connection to this process in that regard and am tickled that it's gotten this far.

But that just means we have an opportunity; this is no time for anyone who supports these changes to rest on their laurels.

No public hearing date has been announced, but for now anyone interested should consider filing written comments during the next 30 days - particularly individuals with personal stories who can explain how the surcharge has impacted their lives and their families. If you do submit written testimony, shoot me a copy at and we'll try to find ways to use the greatest hits.

This rulemaking proposal presents a tremendous opportunity to fix one of Texas' worst public policy debacles that's resulted in 1.2 million Texans losing their drivers' licenses. The Public Safety Commission has just five members, which means in theory just three people could decide to enact major reforms to the Driver Responsibility surcharge if they chose to do so. Equally encouraging, commissioners have admirably educated themselves on the subject, and at their last meeting Commissioners Barth and Steen were already questioning staff over whether the current proposal goes far enough.

The publication of today's rules, then, is a welcome step forward. I'm hopeful DPS will make the most of the opportunity.

See related Grits posts:


jkitsmiller said...

So if I am too "poor" to pay fines, then I can commit crimes without worrying about the repercussions?


Anonymous said...

No, but Texas should not be a debtors prison.Hope the rules provide some practical relief for Texans. Its not to anyone's benefit to continue a system thats not working and getting worse.

Anonymous said...

A Texas salute to Grits and wife for their great work on this issue. Is their a connection between the collection agency and the current administration in Austin?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

John, you need to study the issue more. Judges can and do routinely reduce fines for indigent people. This is a civil surcharge in ADDITION to criminal fines that cannot be waived - a tax larded on for purposes of revenue generation, not punishment. But then, why let facts get in the way of your ideology?

Also, during the worst recession since the 1930s, must you really put "poor" in quotation marks? Do you imagine that "poor" is a euphemism for "wealthy," or do you think folks living on less than 125% of the federal poverty level are rolling in dough? About 70% of surcharges go unpaid; the system is broken. Or are you suggesting the status quo is just fine and the program is working well?

Anonymous said...

The driver responsibility fees are only one among many things that are coming down the pike fast which intend to, and quickly will, make it much more expensive for people to drive. That is, of course, unless they are in a protected (wealthy or government) class. Other obvious things are the $700 bills people are getting for driving on toll roads, parking tickets that are going through the roof and being issued at an increasing rate to justify the jobs of the people issuing them, and other things. I know for a fact that one person who got an outrageous toll road bill never knew the car was on the toll road (one time -- fee=$1.25, final cost -- $400.00) and, what is more disturbing, NEVER GOT A BILL. The penalties kicked in and the thing was worth several hundred dollars before some goon agency thought is was worth contacting her. Apparently all the IT professionals who lost their jobs a few years ago have been employed helping the government create an easy system for tracking car owners by license plate and collecting money for the general revenue. In most of these rackets, it is the owner of the vehicle that is eventually stuck with the small fee actually incurred and the hundreds of dollars in collection fees charged by the contractors who look up your license plate on the computer, and then hit the enter key to mail you a bill which you can't challenge.

They may be cutting off their noses to spite their faces, because if they make it too hard to drive, its going to effect the one thing that they love the most and show the most favor to -- the economy.

vladimir said...

the link to the texas register is not to the surcharge proposal.

Please post to the correct link.