Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Driver Responsibility program has 'devastating' effect on court system; hospitals only opposition to reform

See coverage of yesterday's hearing on the Driver Responsibility rules from the Dallas News, the Texas Tribune and News 8 Austin. I thought the event went well, though the Public Safety Commission apparently expected a larger crowd. Here's a notable highlight from Terrence Stutz's Morning News story:

David Hodges, who served as a state district judge based in McLennan County, told the panel that the Texas Driver Responsibility Program has had a "devastating" effect on the Texas court system, and judges across the state are reporting at least two years of pending driving-while-intoxicated cases as more defendants seek trials.

"Our criminal justice system is supposed to be about changing behavior and making our streets safer, but there is no evidence that this program is making our streets safer," said Hodges, now judicial liaison for the Texas Center for the Judiciary, which provides training and support for judges.

Not only are more DWI cases being dismissed, but others are resulting in lesser charges, such as reckless driving, to help reduce the huge backlog, he noted.

"There is credible research to show that this program has actually created a new class of criminals that we're having to deal with," said Ho dges.

Another DWI court judge from Williamson County, James Twine, asked that judges be given discretion to reduce or eliminate surcharges as incentive for participation in probation and treatment programming, arguing like Hodges that the surcharge is a disincentive for changing offender behavior.

Representatives from several reform groups, including the Texas Fair Defense Project, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and the ACLU of Texas testified in favor of more aggressive reforms to the program. In addition, the agency received 188 written comments about the rules.

The only opposition came from three speakers, all associated with hospitals, who opposed the rule change because they support maximizing money from surcharges going to hospitals for trauma care. (49.5% of DRP revenue goes to trauma care, 49.5% to state general revenue, and 1% to DPS for administration.) However, it wasn't always clear the hospitals were attacking the amendments at hand so much as expressing fear that the program might be eliminated altogether: Rick Antonisse of the North Central Texas Trauma Regional Advisory Council said reformers shouldn't advocate its elimination without finding an alternative funding source for hospitals.

Several things about that: First, the Public Safety Commission has no authority to abolish the program, only to create Indigency and Incentive programs for low-income drivers and to grant Amnesty to address the backlog of people who haven't paid. Neither the proposal put forward by DPS staff nor the alternative rules suggested by advocates would do that, so the reactions mostly addressed a proposal (ending the program) that wasn't on the table.

Indeed, there's little reason to believe inidgent people are presently paying these high fees. There's a reason nearly 2/3 go unpaid. In fact, there's a strong argument that the Amnesty suggestion from advocates would increase revenue in the short term by getting at least some money from presently noncompliant drivers. If DPS pushed and advertised an amnesty program aggressively, perhaps having the vendor promote it just like they regularly seek collections by mail and phone, it could be a significant source of short-term revenue. For example, if noncompliant drivers could pay $250 to clear their surcharges and get their licenses back and 1/3 of non-compliant drivers took advantage, it would raise $100 million.

The fact is, most people who get these surcharges cannot or do not pay them, either because they're too high, too confusing, or people just can't accept that they all of a sudden owe money on tickets they've already paid, and for three years, no less. Comments from hospitals all ignored this dysfunction and claimed them getting their money was more important than any other consideration.

I'm sure it is, to them, but that seems shortshighted in part because, by demanding money for uncompensated care from this source, they're generating extra uncompensated care because so many more drivers now have no license or insurance. A back of the envelope calculation finds that those 1.2 million unlicensed, uninsured drivers will be involved in more than 35,000 auto accidents each year, increasing uncompensated care for trauma centers and causing even greater, additional costs for many other people.

What's more, DRP surcharges are boosting joblessness among those who lose their licenses, reducing state tax revenue and the number of insured consumers treated at trauma centers, further harming hospitals via uncompensated care.

I don't know whether those uncompensated care costs equal or exceed what hospitals are getting from the program, but really the Legislature should find a source for hospitals that doesn't include so many hidden costs and unintended consequences.

In any event, those are concerns for next session, when one presumes (or at least hopes) that legislators will take another run at abolishing the Driver Responsibility surcharge altogether: I don't believe the changes suggested in the near-term would significantly reduce income to the fund, and an Amnesty program could increase revenue.

The Public Safety Commission will meet today and there's an item on their agenda for a discussion of the hearing and public comments submitted, though no action is scheduled to be taken. Commissioners were mostly mum throughout yesterday's hearing, but may reveal more today about how they may proceed on these rules. I've got to spend time today on something somebody will actually pay me for and cannot attend, but I'm dying to hear what they have to say.


Don Dickson said...

Grits, there was a little bit of discussion of it today, but not much. Tom Clowe stated that the goal should be to collect smaller amounts from a larger pool of surcharge debtors. And Allan Polunsky made a casual remark to the effect that the process was broken and that something needs to be done. Staff was instructed to tweak the proposals even if it means having to republish them, which Clowe admitted was likely.

Anonymous said...

I truly believe that our government piles on so much fine print and red tape to restrict our freedoms and create a police state where 1.2 million people are wanted. I'm starting to believe that they want us in there profit prisons. I will never pay the surcharge , nor can i afford to. There has to be some display or example even more then what we have now. I wish we could just live by the bill of rights , but most of that has been rewritten and forgotten. So welcome to the corporate future , just like all those B-movie sci-fi movies i used to watch as a kid

Anonymous said...

Same as above , The system is no longer in place to create a better quality of life. It has now become a profit system with only interest in itself. The machine is Chewing our flesh to grow and throwing human life in the trash , and the fine print and tape justify it !!! This is a world wide and growing rapidly. Greed has gotten the best of us and really it always has. When your pounding your police state fist on my future just because i don't want to pay insurance!
Insurance is a joke ! Life is Chaos. you cannot regulate or control chaos. Next your going to tell me i need job insurance , SO when i quit another worthless job my insurance company can makeup from my slack. I never built my lifestyle on credit or debt. I am 27 years old and doing ok without ever having debt . now the system has found a way to put even me into debt with the surcharges and some other things so now i owe over 14 thousand dollars in surcharges and a failed apartment contract..5 thousand owed in surcharges.
I want an Education, but that also requires more debt and a hole i might never be able to get out of. Besides me working as a temp for Dell . samsung , fed-ex i was performing higher education tasked for less then 10 bucks an hour! SO from what i see college is a gamble and most are still looking for that 30 thousand a year job. I was a higher level corporate software support for a Large company making 10 bucks an hour , handling multi-million accounts with Microsoft and the other big ones. i also worked on a xbox360 project with some of the brightest hardware techs i ever meet ! They all had masters in computer sci and where just trying to make ends meat making 8 bucks an hour for TEMP Microsoft! Yes Microsoft pays the least!!! Anyway The system is broken and i am thinking about living outside of it ! My whole life i tried to be a good person , now that i understand how your System works i no longer envy a P.C. life , I am planning on making my own life outside of your Broken Dream !

john said...

Like debtor's prison? Or joblessness? Read ex-HUD Secr.Catherine Austin Fitt's 2006 "Dillon Read & Co., Inc., and the Aristocracy of Prison Profits" [later title was dumbed down].
Our USA has the most people in prison, IN THE WORLD, Mr. Indentured-Servant-Slave-Peasant-Citizen. Sen. Kennedy told Congress if they passed that bankruptcy bill, we'd all be indentured servants. And Bush/Cheney/Wall Street Comrades stole the treasury. Here in Texas, those in power WILL RAISE REVENUES.

toby said...

I hope the trauma center burns in a grease fire.

R. Shackleford said...

If even Bradley thinks it's crooked, you KNOW it's a horrible law.

Shaun said...

I guess I am a bit naive. I thought the ridiculousness of this whole program was undeniable by now.

Rick Perry, to me... personally... you are the worst governor this state has ever seen. Thanks for making me feel like a hardened criminal on a monthly basis. I have never even touched a drug, but because of this system I have funded your stupid program which undoubtedly finds it's way into your bottomless pockets. What a prick.

Anonymous said...

And Amen to all of your comments! I, too, am a victim of the surcharge robbery system. I feel that if I pay the fines, my (now $200) reinstatement fee and keep insurance, I should have my license. I have gotten my license back already (please don't ask how much I paid) and now do not have it again because of the friggin surcharges. I was like one day late with a payment and they kicked me off. ONE DAY PEOPLE! I cannot keep pay insurance because I'm too busy paying off fines, paying reinstatements and paying the surcharges forever! So, guess what, that's another surcharge if I get caught driving without it again. I cannot apply for jobs that I, otherwise, would be perfectly fit for because of my lack of driver's license. How can I pay them if I cannot qualify for a good enough job to give the funds in order to do so. I, for one, feel that once we pay the fines, we should be through with it. Stuff happens, and people will get tickets. That's just life. Without it, why would we need traffic police? In turn, they tax us for having normal life situations. Some people cannot truly pay insurance at certain times. They may have a family of 6 or 7 and feeding their children may be more important than anything else to them. Can you blame them for not wanting their child to go hungry? Or do you want them to starve their children in order to pay insurance (that's probably not needed at the time) and to pay the state (which is already rich by the way) a needless surcharge? You know, it puzzles me that I hear the top government officials and hospital representatives in Texas always talking about needing money when I know that they all go home to a house that most of us non-paying misfits couldn't dream of. I bet they never wonder how they are going to feed their families or pay their bills. Why do you expect us to be able to take care of a state debt that you yourself cannot and will not try to rectify on your own? Can't they take a little pay cut to supplement some budget concerns? Surely if I can make it off of $25000 a year, they can take a cut to 50, 60 or 70! Why are you taxing the poor? You cannot squeeze juice from a turnip is what my grandmother always taught me so they can wait until their blue in the face to receive my money from the surcharges. I just AIN'T got it! My family eating and surviving means so much more to me even if they don't care about it. The Bible clearly speaks against taxing the poor! And we call this God's country. Where is He? If God were here, I promise he wouldn't be living on there street. He'd be my next door neighbor. He'd be the dude that posts after me on this comment board stating how He AIN'T gonna pay the surcharges either!

Anonymous said...

My son got two tickets for not having a license and insurance to he owed $260 (x 2) for 3 years, then he got the first DWI which is $1,000 for 3 years, and now the 2nd DWI which is $1,500 for 3 years totaling to about $9,060 owed on this surcharge program. He wants to claim bankruptcy and hopes he can eliminate what he owes in surcharges so he can get an occupational drivers license to drive legally. He has a motorcycle he is paying on and is driving without a license. I don't have enough money to help him pay these surcharges. He is 28 years old and works. He has an apartment he rents. He has all these legal bills for getting into trouble that he can't afford to pay.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I totally disagree. If you didn't commit these offenses then you would have nothing to worry about. Stop drinking and driving, stop driving without a license or insurance. Drunk driving kills people. This program makes people learn a lesson, we should keep it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Given that 2/3 don't pay, what lesson do you believe people are learning? That sometimes you have no choice but to defy the government? If not that, then what? And who is learning it - the 2/3 or the 1/3?

Anonymous said...

An anonymous guy said stop doing the crime; this program teaches a lesson. 1-Hey, we already HAD criminal laws, when someone commits a crime. The 30 million illegals won't get registered, license, insured, you name it. So THAT's not getting fixed, and punished everyone else. 2-The penalty for not having insurance should also not be greater than the cost of insurance and other things ADDED on. Folks WILL struggle to pay the court and still won't be able to afford ins.