Sunday, May 21, 2017

Replacing 'Driver Responsibility' fee with Phillips-Miles Tariff replicates worst features of a flawed system

Let's crunch a few numbers regarding the proposed "repeal" legislation for the Driver Responsibility Program (DRP), which Grits earlier suggested is barely an improvement, if at all.

The bill adds $20 to every traffic ticket, creates a new $3,000 fine for DWI on top of existing penalties (which already include a fine of up to $2,000 on a first offense), and adds $750 to tickets for no insurance. Under the DRP, these costs were spread out over three years, but now they're criminal fines due upon conviction.

This additional levy is particularly counterproductive since, for most people, a no-insurance ticket amounts to a poverty crime. If the offender had $750 to pay, public safety would benefit more if she were required to buy insurance than to pay that much in a fine. But if they can't pay for insurance, how can they be expected to pay that big a fine? None of it makes sense.

As a practical matter, the no-insurance tariffs are essentially similar to the penalties under Obamacare for people who don't buy health insurance. Except Texas law provides no subsidies for low-income people to pay for insurance like the federal health care statute.

So, will people be able to pay these massive new levies, which all parties agree are being created for the purpose of revenue generation, not public safety or good government? Even bill proponents don't think so!

The fiscal note for HB 2068 estimates that the new fines will be applied to 82,000 DWI cases and 444,000 no-insurance cases in the first year of implementation. At $3,000 per DWI and $750 per no-insurance ticket, that generates a gross annual debt obligation of $825 million.

However, the Legislative Budget Board estimates that the "new fines and their proposed allocation would generate an estimated $266.2 million in revenue in the 2018-19 Biennium, which would be equally divided between Account No. 5111 and the General Revenue Fund." That's a two-year number. So taking $133.1 million in revenue per year and dividing by $825 million, the state is estimating only 16.1 percent of these fines will be paid!

To repeat, this legislation is being pushed with foreknowledge that most people (83.9 percent) hit with these fines cannot pay them and may end up with warrants issued for their arrest, their driver licenses revoked, etc.. That's more than 440,000 people per year statewide being knowingly condemned to a debtors-prison cycle by this legislation.

Even with such high levels of nonpayment,  the bill ultimately produces more money for trauma centers than the DRP, so arguably the hospitals will be even more reliant on debtors-prison funding than they are now.

That such an outcome could possibly be considered an improvement over the DRP only shows how absurdly flawed the program is now. The good part of this bill is that it eliminates past surcharges, so hundreds of thousands of people will get their licenses back and finally shake off manacles of debt which may be more than a decade old. That's the bill's big selling point - really its only selling point - and it's a tempting benefit. This writer has been calling for DRP repeal and amnesty for many sessions now.

But hundreds of thousands of Texans will rack up new debts almost immediately under what will be known at the "Phillips-Miles Tariff" (for the House and Senate authors of the bill). The situation would be ameliorated somewhat if the bill authors would allow amendments to add an indigence waiver, like the DRP had, and if the bill limited driver-license suspensions to two years, as proposed under HB 74.

Indeed, because the Phillips-Miles Tariff replicates the DRP's structure as new criminal fines, these suggestions are even more important. Otherwise this is quickly going to become a huge source of unnecessary, extra arrests, with all the associated police and jail time wasted on people we already know can't pay. (This expectation of widespread nonpayment is already worked into the fiscal note assumptions.)

With accommodation for indigence and a limit on the length of driver-license suspensions, one could probably make the case that HB 2068 is a marginal improvement over current law, though it's still a fatally flawed system. Without those fixes, Texas and Texas' hospitals are committing to a debtors-prison model as our best and only solution for funding trauma centers, and that's no solution at all.


Brad Walters said...

Idiocracy. Next they will be requiring watering crops with Gatorade. It's got electrolytes you know.

Anonymous said...

FYI HB 2068 id on the Senate intent calander for tonight 5/21 starting @ 7:00 pm. I predict it passes due to $$$ increases. It's a BAIT AND SWITCH! Wonder what they will call it this time? Wonder if they will have another 'Great Texas Warrant Round Up' before Sept 1? Can't wait to hear the news reports of what a great job Phillips and his buddies have done for us in the Tx 85th legislature! Most likely will. be headline news! Yea! Amendment to allow consideration for indigent status was rejected. Sorry just show us YOUR money! So a whole bunch more people are fixin to get duped and don't even know it... they will find out later. And I just have to mention after all the testimony about lack of ability to pay (no money) they said humm...lets make this a fine lnstead of a fee, a criminal offense instread of civil and increase the amount of money these criminals must pay.

Excuse me I have to go throw up now.

Anonymous said...

Update please!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great idea for COMMERCIAL drivers, since the people are allowed to freely travel.