Thursday, October 21, 2010

Finally! Indigence, Amnesty rules approved for Driver Responsibility Program

On this blog I more frequently play the role of critic than cheerleader, I told the Public Safety Commission today during their public comment period, but this morning I showed up at the commission's monthly meeting with pom poms (figuratively) in hand to praise them for approving the new Indigence and Amnesty rules for the Driver Responsibility Program on their consent agenda. (See the rules here.)

As a reminder, these rules pertain to civil surcharges added by the Legislature in 2003 on top of criminal penalties for driving with no insurance, no license, or while intoxicated. While criminal fines for these offenses are paid in a single shot, the surcharges are owed over three consecutive years, which is why as a practical matter they mostly go unpaid. The result has been devastating, with more than a million drivers losing their licenses and courts reducing charges against drunk drivers to avoid the excessive fees. Since 2004, the total surcharges collected came to $767 million, while the total uncollected exceeds $1.1 billion.

I basically went to the meeting today to say "thank you." To give credit where it's due, I've rarely seen a state agency governing body as engaged on an issue as were the five commissioners at the Texas Department of Public Safety. Not only are they all well-informed on the subject, they even overruled staff to insist that an Amnesty program be created along with the Indigency rules, something I've seldom seen in all my years working on criminal justice topics (an earlier version published in the Texas Register failed to include an Amnesty provision). While the final result didn't include all the changes I might prefer, the commission was extraordinarily responsive to public input and the final rules are nearly as strong as I could have hoped for when this blog petitioned the agency for rulemaking last summer.

I should also take this opportunity to say "thank you" to Amanda Marzullo and the Texas Fair Defense Project who worked with me on this endeavor every step of the way, not to mention all the Grits readers who submitted comments or attended the public hearing on the rules.

As PSC Chairman Allan Polunsky said today, ultimately the Legislature needs to revisit (and IMO abolish) the surcharges, but these new rules are a significant step and may even help force the issue onto the the Legislature's agenda next spring.

I know a lot of readers have questions about when and how Amnesty will be granted or how Indigency applications will be processed. As I understand it, those decisions have not all been made yet, but I'll keep y'all informed as more information becomes available.

MORE: A press release from DPS includes this description of the programs approved:
Driver Responsibility Program changes approved

The Texas Public Safety Commission adopted proposed changes to the Driver Responsibility Program rules during their meeting today. The adopted rule will be published in the Texas Register as a final rule in November, and will consist of the following reduction programs:

The Amnesty program:

· Will apply to individuals who have been in default, and the Department will determine the time in default for each amnesty period
· Will reduce amount to 10 percent of total surcharges owed, not to exceed $250
· Will rescind suspension for those who receive amnesty while payments are being made

The Indigency program:

· Will apply to individuals at or below 125 percent of poverty level, using a sworn affidavit
· Will reduce amount to 10 percent of total surcharges owed, not to exceed $250
· Will rescind suspension for those who receive indigency while payments are being made
The press release adds that "The programs will be phased in over several months, with the Amnesty program being implemented during tax season. The Indigency program will be implemented immediately after the Amnesty period ends."

The press release also reminds me that I should have mentioned the new rules include provisions for an "incentive" program aimed at drivers currently paying their surcharges. However, because of the potential fiscal impact, the agency won't immediately be implementing that part of the rules. Instead, the "Incentive program will be evaluated for implementation" in the future.

In a way, it's unfair that noncompliant drivers get a break while those who paid are still on the hook, but that's a function of the politics of the current budget crunch: Half the money from surcharges goes to the state's general revenue fund, and budget folks from the Governor's office feared the incentive program might reduce overall income. By contrast, the state wasn't getting any money from indigent drivers or those who'd already defaulted and lost their drivers licenses, so for the Indigence and Amnesty program the budget impact wasn't a big concern.

OTOH, for the million-plus Texas drivers who've defaulted on their surcharges and lost their driver licenses, the new rules will be a godsend. I'd like to see the agency implement the Incentive program sooner than later, but I also know better than to look a gift horse in the mouth.

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

How many months is it going to take to get the application? The only date I saw was Sept. 2011.

Anonymous said...

Their site says in January of 2011, and that they will say something about it in December.

Anonymous said...

While I am glad DPS started the Amnesty and Indigence programs I am also glad the Responsibility Program as a whole is still in effect. I am aware that is an unpopular stance to take on this board. I also agree the program does not prevent crime or deter the unlicensed and uninsured from driving. It is nothing more than revenue collection. However we live in a time of increased demand for State services ranging the entire spectrum from law enforcement to mental health to welfare programs. At the same time no one wants the burden of increased taxes that comes with the cost of paying for these services. Like stats show the reponsiblity program collected over 700 million and will likely collect several million more during the amnesty program. Faced with the up coming budget crises I have no problem letting those who drive intoxicated, without a license or insurance or those who acquire too many points against their license due to a heavy foot help foot the bill. While the rest of us law abiding citizens enjoy lower taxes.

Anonymous said...

10:08, that is simply atrocious. That's the kind of argument that saddles us with these kinds of ridiculous programs in the first place. "These guys broke a (stupid) law, so let's make it harder for them to become better citizens by adding yet MORE assbackwards revenue schemes to their already taxed-beyond-endurance wallets. After all, it's not ME who'll foot the bill". Socially reprehensible, and flat out stupid. Do you think it doesn't cost law abiding folk money EVERY TIME someone is arrested? And housed by the state? Etc.? Also, you mention increased demand for LE... oh yeah? Who the frack thinks we need more cops, other than people who work for the justice system? Do you think the average citizen wants yet more arrogant ticket writers cruising around, looking to bust everyone for everything? At the end of the month, the damned highway is littered with siren blasting yahoos trying to make their quotas. Meanwhile, the meth dealers, whores and car thieves mosey on about their business, unperturbed. An unjust practice is STILL unjust, even if it only impacts people you dislike. Get a f*cking clue.

Anonymous said...

...not that I see anything particularly wrong with whores, if you're single, per se. Seems to work well in almost every other country in the world but this one.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:08, I hope you also enjoy higher insurance premiums and greater risk from uninsured motorists from the one million-plus extra drivers who've lost their licenses, most of whom are still on the road. Similarly, enjoy the higher property taxes from increased court and jail costs. And of course, enjoy the drunk drivers on the road whose charges were reduced (and thus won't be enhanced on the second offense) because everybody who works in the system - prosecutors, judges, etc. - know the DRP is unworkable and unfair.

Shackelford may find that stance "reprehensible." I just find it really dumb, and contrary to the real best interests of taxpayers. The hidden costs from this nonsnse are greater than the income.

Randy said...

10:08, Absolutely incredible!! I'm finding it harder to believe you're actually in law enforcement. As I read more of your post's here, it seems that you're the kind of person that is self centered, self fulfilling, and quick to jump at the chance to be Judge, Jury, and Executioner when given the opportunity. (Big person in a small place). The way I read your comment was... "Hey!! as long as nothing is happening to me, who cares how many get ostracized by a corrupt system. Where I feel that you are totally oblivious (complete dumbass) on this topic is that you and so many others don't see how much it actually cost's everyone!! ALL LAW ABIDING CITIZENS PAY when one law in itself creates more petty crimes than the one it was intended to suppress. Another thought just came to mind... Someone even more out of touch with reality has issued you a weapon under the cloak of "serve and protect"... Quite frankly... That disturbs me.

Don said...

Me, too, Randy. Anyway, about the people who are paying, and have been paying, but don't get a break under these rules. I can't believe anybody would go ahead and pay the 3,000 to 6000 $ while others are getting reduced to $250, just because they can. So why wouldn't these people just STOP paying? Confused! And qualify for amnesty?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Don, until DPS unveils the amnesty details that might be problematic advice.

In particular, say the rules, "Amnesty will apply to individuals who have been in default for a specified amount of time prior to the announcement of amnesty. The department will determine the amount of time in default for each amnesty period."

Until we know what is that "specified amount of time," and it has yet to be determined (or at least publicly announced), folks who just stop paying to take advantage of Amnesty might be setting themselves up to lose their DLs for a while.

I wish they'd just go ahead and enact the incentive program for those folks, but this is all we could get for now.

Don Dickson said...

For the record, I'm the "other Don," and I want to say congratulations, Grits, for your work on getting these rule changes taken up and implemented. You pushed a very big rock up a very steep hill.

As someone who deals with the PSC on a regular basis, I have to say that while I don't always agree with them about this, that or something else, they are nothing if not "engaged." All five of them are really committed to getting dirt under their fingernails. For most of the prior 75 years the commissioners would come to Austin once a month for catered lunch and to ask "What's new, Colonel?" These five have shown an unprecedented willingness to consult people at the bottom of the DPS food chain, and people outside of the DPS like you and me, to collect information and seek consensus on solutions to problems. It's been quite refreshing, even when the results haven't been all that one might have hoped for.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks for the kind words, Donald.

Anonymous said...

Email from the DPS

The Department of Public Safety has just submitted the rule you requested earlier. Below is a copy of that submission. Be sure to confirm that it is accepted and published in the November 5, 2010, issue of the Texas Register. My office has not yet processed this submission. So, it is still subject to refusal if it fails to meet our filing requirement. It will most likely be published in the November 5 issue.

Fido said...

Congratulations. When your family or loved one is maimed or killed in a crash with an unlicensed driver with no insurance it will be that much harder to seek civil recourse. You guys chase yor tail a lot and call it the pursuit of justice.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Fido, this has nothing AT ALL to do with pursuing "civil recourse" when someone is killed in a crash. The level of ignorance displayed in your comment is downright astonishing. The surcharge makes it MORE likely people will be unlicensed and uninsured. Perhaps you should read, or better, think before posting such nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Support amnesty!

Anonymous said...

Are those folks that have not made any payments Considered in default, and therefore eligible for amnesty?

I sure hope so...I'd love to be able to drive legally again!

Don Dickson said...

Hey Grits, did you happen to see Allan Polunsky on TBS the other night standing on the field after Game 6 and posing for photos with the players? He's part of the new ownership group.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:36, yes, it would apply under those circumstances. I think you'll qualify.

Anonymous said...

thank GOD,thank GOD

Anonymous said...

OK, I'm sorry for being ignorant, but this is the first I've heard of this because I haven't lived in the States for the past couple of years. I have past surcharges totaling near $4000 that are at least 4 years old. Does the amnesty program mean that if I am approved, my charges will be reduced to a one time fee of $250? Then I would be able to get my Driver's License again right? Again, I'm sorry if these questions have already been answered in previous blogs.

Anonymous said...

It seems unfair to those citizens that have paid and still paying their surcharges. There should be something in it for those that have paid the surcharges and still owe on them......they should get a break and get the balance paid off if those indigent ones are getting amnesty. It's not right.

Anonymous said...

I want to know why I have a suspended license right now, since I didn't qualify for amnesty and have had a hard time making payments.....yet, my friend who has had 3 DUIS qualified and gets the slate wiped clean.......they are driving around with no worries while I cannot....where is the sanity and justice in this? btw...I got a no insurance ticket which I paid in full. things happen, I was without insurance for 2 weeks out of the past 5-6 years.

hooray for those who qualified, but why screw the rest of us, who have made an attempt....