Wednesday, December 14, 2016

License suspensions for drug convictions a problem in Texas, but not as big as the Driver Responsibility surcharge

Texas law suspended drivers licenses for some 13,000 drug convictions in 2015, found the Prison Policy Initiative, down from more than 16,000 in 2010. The group suggested that Texas is among the states which "should repeal their laws that automatically suspend licenses for drug offenses that are unrelated to driving and retroactively restore suspended driver’s licenses."

Grits heartily agrees. But the much bigger source of the justice system revoking people's driver's licenses in Texas is the Driver Responsibility Surcharge, which has costs millions of Texans their licenses, 1.4 million of whom have not been able to regain them. That's almost entirely because of simple economics: They can't afford the civil surcharges on top of the criminal penalties involved with traffic tickets, and eventually succumb to the bureaucracy.

Most of these folks don't stop driving, of course, they just drive without a license. Then the next time they're stopped, the cops just rinse and repeat. It's not keeping us safe, but it's keeping a lot of government employees occupied and generating a great deal of revenue that the Lege can pretend is not "taxation." By comparison, the few thousand people whose DLs were revoked for drugs are a drop in the bucket. Texas' problems stemming from revoking licenses in the justice system are more far reaching and deeply rooted than that.


Jim King said...

Driving costs money. At minimum, gas, oil and tires, not to mention car payments, repairs and insurance. If "most of these folks don't stop driving", then "most of these folks" have money and can afford to pay the surcharges, perhaps on a payment schedule. I've never understood how activists complain about the surcharges without examining how the affected drivers are actually allocating their financial resources. Give up smoking, stop drinking beer, cut the cable, get a cheaper smartphone plan, ... there are many ways to save money. It's too easy to claim "I can't afford it."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jim, when you look at the numbers, the 1.4 million who've defaulted mostly owe so much they'll never pay it while living month to month on low wages. You're just wrong.

The system is broken. MOST drivers assessed surcharges don't pay and have their licenses revoked. A few eventually get them back scraping together money as you suggest over time. But most have never been able to do so, which is how you get to 1.4 million people (out of about 15 million drivers) who are unlicensed because of this program.

It's not their fault. The government designed a revenue-mulcting program that was dysfunctional and unworkable at the get go and it's been a train wreck nearly from day one. Trying to blame defaulted drivers amounts to putting lipstick on a pig. The greater responsibility lies with government for creating a harmful, regressive program then refusing to alter it as crushed hundreds of thousands of citizens under its jackboot.

Anonymous said...

Gary said:

Please don't forget that this is also a second punishment for the same offense. I think that's the part I find so repulsive.


As someone who represents a number of Misdemeanor defendants, both of the draconian punishments, surcharges and mandatory suspensions, should be targeted and eliminated as soon as is legislatively possible.
The mandatory 6 month suspension, for conviction of Any amount of marijuana, only helps the Insurance companies, (SR-22) and the County Clerk's coffers ($250.00 filing fees) for obtaining an occupational license, or playing DWLI roulette.
The surcharge issue has been debated ad-nauseum, with the vast majority of citizens opposed to it. Creating Debtors prisons is not what Texas and the United States are about.
Perhaps a legislator with true concerns for their constituents should take on these issues, hopefully resulting in change. It would also be a significant victory for a young or pragmatic politician to gain a favorable reputation in regards to the people directly affected by these punishments. Any takers?

Anonymous said...

Drugs can kill people. Look at what some idiot is enforcing: Not re-newing a drivers license because of child support payments that a "Judge" (possibly corrupt) recommended. NO parent should be denied a relationship with their child - too many women (liars and unhappy situation) are using the court system for their own financial benefit depriving some good men of fatherhood. There are laws already in place without interfering with family relations and there are relatives also. We do not need CPS incompetence tearing families apart. Texas Attorney bragged about how much money they collected on the backs of men (fathers) and the children did not benefit.

Anonymous said...

This whole ordeal is nothing but a classic example of double jeopardy. Both of these issues need attention now. I've been losing employees due to this crap. The ledge never considered how much it cost business owners when we have to let someone go, advertise, train, and employ their replacements.

Anonymous said...

So, what happened to the round of amnesty DPS promised the last Legislature? It still hasn't happened and even more people are stuck without licenses because of the ever-increasing burden of these damned surcharges.

John Delaney said...

Grits, thanks for another reminder about this issue, and the new study about DL suspensions.

You note that DL suspensions are only 13,000 a year, but you don't mention the cumulative effect. Many people don't get their licenses reinstated immediately after the mandatory 180 suspension period. The costs are prohibitive for many. So the total number of drivers with suspended licenses due to drug offenses continues to rise. They doubtless overlap to some extent with the population having surcharges.

Two new bills would help with the problem of DL suspensions due to drug convictions. H.B. 81 and it's companion S.B. 170 would make possession of marijuana 1 oz and below a no-arrest, citation-only offense, punishable with a "civil penalty" that would not be a "drug offense," so it would not result in a DL suspension.

All that said, please keep sounding the call for a complete fix.