Friday, April 07, 2017

Parallels between Obamacare and Driver Responsibility surcharges, and other stories

A super-busy week at work has kept Grits off the blog, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been a lot going on.

Tragic murder of deputy constable no argument for enhancement bill
The tragic ambush murder of a deputy constable in Houston was touted by some this week as an argument for legislation boosting penalties for assaulting police officers. But killing a cop is already capital murder. How much more can you "enhance" the penalty than a death sentence? Whatever arguments may exist for or against the bill, this episode is unrelated. After all, the possibility of a death sentence didn't deter this suspect, why would anyone think a lesser punishment would have done so?

Focus on suicide to prevent police officer deaths
Meanwhile, a Marshall Project email noted this week that, "29 police officers committed suicide in the first quarter of 2017. LAW OFFICER Related: That’s almost three times the number of cops (11) who have been killed by gunfire this year. OFFICER DOWN MEMORIAL PAGE." This highlights an issue Grits has discussed for years: While police officer murders receive far more sensationalist coverage, suicides and traffic accidents are the more frequent causes of officer deaths, and little is done to stop them.

Opposition to bail reform overstates case 
Sen. Whitmire's and Rep Andrew Murr's bill requiring risk assessments before bail is set does NOT require judges to follow the assessment's recommendations. It's entirely voluntary for the judges (which some say privately could be its Achilles heel - that there should be a presumption for low-risk defendants to receive personal bonds). But to hear the bail bond industry tell it, you'd think the bill requires counties to gather mobs and hound them out of town with torches and pitch forks. What a pile of horse hockey. As the Houston Chronicle opined this week, opposition to bail reform is becoming more or less indefensible. Few of the criticisms are rooted in reality, and almost entirely represent a (overstated) complaint from bail bondsmen and the politicians they bankroll about potential lost revenue.

Hate crime by jail guards? 
Felony hate crimes charges have been filed against two Walker County jail guards for abusing an inmate in a racially tinged incident.

Immigration roundups and empty detention facilities: A match made in Hell 
Texas county jails are hoping that the Trumpian immigration roundups will result in new detention contracts for empty, overbuilt jails constructed on spec at the height of the incarceration boom. And private prisons are pushing at the Lege, in the face of significant opposition, to become licensed child care providers so they can house immigrant children detainees. This is why private prison stocks soared after the election, but Grits wouldn't be so quick to invest. The president's budget cutting tendencies probably will mean most of these facilities still can't find contract prisoners to fill them.

Parallels between Obamacare and the Driver Responsibility Program
The Driver Responsibility Program is Texas' version of Obamacare. The program is broadly despised, the leadership wants to "repeal and replace" it, but fears doing so because people will lose access to health care.  Debates over the DRP this year are all about how to fund hospital trauma centers if the program goes away. 
The Texas House found a way in the budget to cover about a third of the money for trauma centers, which could make way for easier repeal or scaling back of the Driver Responsibility surcharge. Rep. Mando Martinez pulled down an amendment to the budget that would have redirected money from border security after being told that more than a $100 million extra had already been designated for trauma centers in the budget, But the vehicle for repeal will likely move first in the Senate and they can't figure out how to proceed. Folks in the House need to make sure that extra money stays tied to surcharge repeal and doesn't just turn into an extra gift if repeal doesn't pass. The hospitals have been playing hardball on this and surcharge opponents must do so as well if the program is going to go away.

Why it's not necessary for police to shoot someone armed with a knife


  1. In re: "The Driver Responsibility Program is Texas' version of Obamacare." If that's the case, then a credible threat to its survival will generate a surge in public support for it:

    Not sure that's the point you wanted to make, Scott.

  2. How about, "The Driver Responsibility Program is Texas' version of a hockey puck shot to the groin".

    R.I.P. Don Rickles, 1926-2017. He made all of us laugh at ourselves.

  3. Charles, that's why we've been unable to repeal it. They fear what happens if they kick the slats out from under trauma care. Doesn't matter whether it's a point I "want" to make or not, it's true whether or not one acknowledges it. We have to replace the money or we can't repeal it.

    Comedian, yours gets to the meat of the matter, so to speak. And Yes. Rickles. RIP.

  4. There's other avenues to replace the money that the DRP produces which I agree is nothing less than *Blood Money.* The House can figure it out but the Senate can't? Really? How did we function before the Trauma Care Centers? It seems to me like these folks are protecting their incomes at the hands of an unconstitutional law. Greed. Maybe a better approach to rid ourselves of this mess is to impose term limits and get these folks out of there.

  5. The main reason we still have Surcharges is to pay for Trauma Centers! The CEOs of the large hospitals who are making big bucks (over $100,000) year are begging not to get rid of surcharges since that is around 55 million dollars that go to hospitals!! No legislator will stand up to the hospitals!!

    Another thing, the whole system of DPS/tickets will need to be restructured! It is not right to suspend someone's licenses for 2 years for failure to pay off tickets that are often over $700 or from having more then 3 tickets in a year! The whole system sucks!

  6. Driver Responsibility Program further disenfranchises the disenfranchised to benefit ones who can manage without it. Sadly the people mostly affected by this are the less likely to be organized enough to make their voices heard in a meaningful way. For my part, I am going to continue to get the message to as many people as possible, and thanks for covering this topic, Scott.

  7. "5 dead in London vehicle and knife attack, including police officer, attacker; 40 hurt" It isn't hard to find contrary data points to Chapman's article. While the lethality of knives is lower than firearms, many officers have sustained serious injuries from knives in the US. The cavalier statement, "The risk an officer faces of being killed with a" is Ivory Tower silliness, and his class privilege is showing