Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Appellate court: Drivers with licenses suspended over unpaid surcharges are eligible for occupational licenses

Drivers whose license was suspended because of failure to pay Texas' Driver Responsibility surcharge (the civil fees paid for three years in addition to fines for certain traffic offenses) are eligible to apply for occupational drivers licenses, according to an appellate ruling out of Fort Worth's Second Court of Appeals last week, despite DPS' insistence to the contrary. According to background on the case from the opinion:
Mr. [Barry] Wood is indigent and unable to pay the surcharges to lift the suspension.  The Department of Public Safety (DPS) sent Mr. Wood a letter explaining that DPS would be implementing various programs to reduce or waive surcharges for those who cannot pay them, but none of those programs will be in effect until 2011.  The letter also provided Mr. Wood instructions for applying for an occupational license.

Mr. Wood then petitioned the trial court for an occupational license, claiming that his license was suspended for his failure to pay the surcharges and that he has an essential need for transportation to and from work and other locations as required by his probation plan.  There is no reporter’s record of the hearing, but the clerk’s record shows that DPS submitted a memorandum after the hearing in which it argued that a person suspended for failure to pay the Driver Responsibility Program surcharges is not of the class of people to which an occupational license may be granted.  The court denied Mr. Wood’s petition for an occupational license “for petitioner’s failure to pay surcharges or enter into an installment agreement.”
The appellate court disagreed, however, and said failure to pay DRP surcharges did not under law preclude provision of an occupational license. "Mr. Wood’s license is not suspended for any of the listed reasons which would prohibit him from obtaining an occupational license.  The statutory list is exclusive, and we cannot expand it."

If DPS has been routinely submitting memoranda to courts arguing "that a person suspended for failure to pay the Driver Responsibility Program surcharges is not of the class of people to which an occupational license may be granted," this could open the door for drivers to get occupational licenses if they don't qualify for indigence or amnesty programs the agency will implement in the next few months, certainly within the jurisdiction of the Second Court of Appeals.

Between this ruling and the new DPS rules, a little wiggle room is beginning to open up for the 1.2 million drivers who've lost their licenses in this expensive, self-defeating surcharge cycle to make their way back to becoming legal, licensed and insured. Really, though, best of all would be if the Lege just called the whole thing a failed experiment and passed Rep. Leo Berman's HB 299 to abolish the surcharge altogether.


Anonymous said...

OK let me see if I understand this article. DPS sends Mr. Wood a letter with instructions for applying for an occupational license. Then DPS sends the court a letter after the hearing in which it argued that a person suspended for failure to pay the Driver Responsibility Program surcharges is not of the class of people to which an occupational license may be granted.
Does this agency’s left hand not know what the right hand is doing?
Our tax $$$ at waist

Anonymous said...

No, Sheldon. The left and right hand of this bureaucratic beast has has no earthly idea what it is doing! I work with "it" often in an attempt to help people get back on the road legally, and generally find that no one at DPS knows the answer at hand, and worse yet--no one cares! I fully support any and all efforts to repeal this mess and stand ready to supply the legislature with dozens of real life examples of the hardships this program has caused.

Grits, please continue to rally support for a full repeal of this mess. Thanks also for suggesting who most needs to hear feedback from the folks in the trenches.

Keep up the great work! Your efforts are appreciated more than you know...

Charlie O said...

Exactly how more stupid can the state of Texas get??? The guy doesn't have the money to pay the surcharges, so DPS wants to bend over backwards further to keep him from earning the money to pay the surcharges. Open mouth, insert revolver.

Anonymous said...

I really appreciate your continuing coverage of the issues surrounding the state's Driver Responsibility Program.

In the beginning, I personally was indebted to the State of Texas for approximately $7500 in surcharges. But the way I had always viewed it was that by breaking the law, I had simply brought this upon myself. It was my debt to pay for putting others at risk, and I had to accept legal and financial responsibility for my actions. I didn't want to be a scofflaw any more. So, in a way, the system worked for me.

Fast forward four or so years. With monthly payments now capping at around $225, I have paid back nearly $4000 of my fees. I had heard rumors during the 2009 session that the program might be folded, so I've naturally been keeping my eyes peeled since then. Following the DPS release about changes to the program, I immediately ceased making my timely payments.

Frankly, DPS's counterintuitive amnesty plan didn't shock me. Why continue to do something that costs you for naught, and why stop a revenue stream? Justice and money are often times mutually exclusive, unfortunately, but we are all trying to survive after all. Yet, as I too am trying to survive, my buck stopped there.

So, I'm rolling the dice--a perhaps futile attempt to pull one over on a system that has simultaneously served and pulled one over on me. And with a pending license suspension, and a fresh bus pass in hand, I look forward to continuing to follow your updates and possibly saving myself $3000.

Keep it up.

Queen Dee said...

It's extremely wack that they did not include 2009???? I'm totally confused on what counts and what doesn't. I talked to someone at the DPS number this morning and she was telling me how reference numbers change every 3 years...??? All I know is that I owed $4320 and that I've paid $1500. BUT I don't know what I owe now, do the rollover surcharge fees count as the original surcharge date? or what? She didn't seemed to know either. She just kept rambling - "On September 1, 2003 the Department of Public....." - ummmm DUH. Why else would I be calling?

I'm just ready to see how much I owe and get back to driving. Going to School full time, work part time, probation, and being a single parent hood is a monster of a time.

Wish they'd get the ball rolling so i can be on my way. It sounds like the application part is quick and easy enough.

Hopefully they'll eventually trash it and be done.... Thanks Grits for keeping us informed.

Deszi - Eager Reader

Anonymous said...

I agree. I think they should Have added 2009. I am unable to continue to pay these fees