Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Two questions and a comment as CA ends driver-license suspensions for nonpayment of traffic tickets

In California, a reader alerts me, the Legislature ended driver license suspensions as punishment for unpaid traffic fines because a government analysis convinced the governor and lawmakers that, “There does not appear to be a strong connection” between the license suspensions and collection rates.

That's certainly appeared to be the case in Texas with driver licenses suspended for unpaid Driver Responsibility surcharges and/or unpaid traffic fines. At this point, suspensions represent around 10 percent of drivers, mitigated only slightly in recent years by a one-time DRP amnesty and a stingy-but-at-least-existent indigence program (which this blog helped secure along with our allies at the Texas Fair Defense Project back in the day).

To this news, Grits has two questions and a comment:

Question One: Grits would love to know precisely what analysis was performed to convince revenue-hungry legislators that suspensions weren't successful at coercing payment from drivers. I think it's true, based on the huge number of drivers in Texas whose suspensions have lasted for many years, sometimes more than a decade. But my supposition is an inference from the data, not a proof. If someone concocted a proof, I want to know what it was so we replicate it for Texas.

Question Two: Among the arguments that convinced legislators to support this bill, one of the most persuasive was that "losing the ability to drive to work can prevent people from earning money and actually make low-income drivers less likely to pay fines." Was this quantified? Can it be quantified? If that dynamic could be demonstrated from the data, and particularly Texas-specific data, I think it would be persuasive for legislators who are currently on the fence regarding license suspensions and the Driver Responsibility program.

The closest I've seen was a 2006 study out of New Jersey, which has the only other DRP similar to Texas'. As Grits pointed out in this 2010 post
According to that survey, of persons with suspended licenses whose annual income was under $30,000: (1) 64% were unable to maintain their prior employment following a license suspension; (2) only 51% of persons who lost their job following a license suspension were able to find a new employment; (3) 66% reported that their license suspension negatively affected their job performance; and (4) 90% of persons whose license was suspended within this income bracket indicated that they were unable to pay costs that were related to their suspended driving privileges. In addition, of those who were able to find a new job following a license suspension-related dismissal, 88% reported a reduction in income.
Regrettably, I've never seen that study replicated elsewhere and certainly nobody in Texas has tried to perform anything like it.

We've got a year-and-a-half until the Texas Legislature meets again, so now's the time for this research to be performed before the DRP-abolition effort ramps up again in 2019. Maybe it exists and Grits just hasn't seen it, in which case, shame on me. But if these are things done specifically from California's data, I'd like to know how they were done and if they were replicable.

And now the comment:

In California, according to the above-linked AP article, as of March, "488,000 people had suspended driver's licenses for unpaid traffic tickets or missing court appearances." And Golden-State legislators considered this a big problem they needed to confront.

In Texas, more than 2 million people have had their licenses suspended for nonpayment of Driver Responsibility Program surcharges, with 2/3 of them unable to get them back. Some of these debtors have now gone without licenses for more than a decade, most of them continuing to drive. Even more people's licenses have been suspended for nonpayment of traditional traffic fines. (Hard to estimate because there is crossover between these groups: Emily Gerrick of the Texas Fair Defense Project estimated that, if DRP surcharge debts were eliminated, roughly half of those folks would still have suspended licenses because of unpaid traffic tickets, while others had their licenses suspended for tickets but never incurred surcharges.)

Texas has about 60 percent of California's population, but by comparison our driver-license suspensions are through the roof. Their lawmakers felt the need to nip the problem in the bud long before it got remotely as bad as the situation is here. By contrast, Texas state leaders have allowed this mess to fester for more than a decade! However you want to look at it, Texas' massive volume of suspended licenses speaks far more to the failures of government than its former licensees.

We're approaching a point where such a large critical mass of Texas drivers do not have official credentials because of criminal-justice debt that not having a driver's license becomes a norm for average working people. I hear Americans critique Mexico for tolerating large black markets and unofficial transactions, but that's exactly what happens when Americans can't get the official ID one needs to participate in public life in the 21st century. (E.g., every transaction shifts to cash because credit card companies won't issue credit and no one will take a check without ID.) Grits can't understand why this isn't being treated like the self-inflicted public-safety crisis that it truly is.

The Golden State's experiment will show us whether revenue drops because this extra, administrative punishment is removed. My bet is it won't. Hell, revenue in Texas from traffic tickets barely dropped when the number of tickets issued plunged! ("The number of [new] Class C arrest warrants dropped 42 percent from 2011 to 2013, for example, rising slightly thereafter. Revenue from municipal courts, however, only dropped 3.1 percent from 2011 to 2013.") I'm betting those collections stay pretty consistent. Most people whose licenses are suspended would keep it from happening if they possibly could, they just can't afford to pay their debts to the government.

Grits won't hold my breath, but this issue would look great as a last-minute addition to the special session call. In California, the problem got fixed because the Governor showed leadership. In Texas, a lack of gubernatorial leadership is precisely one of the reasons we haven't come close to solving the same problem.

RELATED: Time for 'Jubilee' on criminal-justice debt.


Steven Michael Seys said...

There's the appearance of a kind of meanness among the moneyed elite in Texas that drives them to rub the disparity in with those who earn no more than the cost of room and board. What looks like a reasonable fine to a lawyer making only $100k per year is a life-destroying debt to a laborer earning $30k or less. Yet the members of the leg refuse to consider the financial devastation they blithely cause, except for the ones who actually enjoy causing harm to their lessors and the even fewer who care.

Unknown said...

I agree with the comment of Mr. Seys and add that the elephant in the room is requiring people who can't afford and don't need it to buy liability insurance. Last time I checked, maybe five years ago, the major automobile insurers such as State Farm, Allstate, Progressive, Geico, and the like, also OPPOSE mandatory liability insurance and have said so to the Texas legislature.

BrazosBoy said...

The problem is greater than it appears. The DPS will not issue an official ID card until the DL surcharges are paid, and then DPS wants an official photo identification card. They will not accept the photo on a suspended DL. The indigent cannot get a decent job, if any at all, without an ID card even if they walk to work.

Unknown said...

This may change now that people can se a judge even if they have a warrant. Phil Sabders

Anonymous said...

I'm not going to make this a political debate but part of the problem is this "Us" vs. "Them" mentality that has polluted politics. If someone wants to pass a reform that does away with these ignorant fees, it turns into a "liberals are just softies" and "cupcake democrats." That tends to be a common theme among any type of social or criminal reform. If you are remotely "soft" then you run the risk of your diehard republicans going nuts. Funny enough, the book they hold dearest teaches just the opposite.

Anonymous said...

What is the purpose of Texas not allowing DPS privileges concerning child support payments when the parent is willing to take care of their own child?

Anonymous said...

@Patrick, so what you are saying is that poor folks should be an le yo drive around without insursnce, blithely destroying other people's property without any consequences ir need to be responsible for their actions? While my insurance goes up due to the carnage and increased price of uninsured motorist coverage.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@5:18, no, Patrick is saying that mandating people buy insurance doesn't work any better (worse, really) for auto insurance than for Obamacare. Obamacare at least subsidizes low income folks or pays for the healthcare through Medicaid. On auto, the government pretends people can pay just because they passed a law, but that's not how the world works.

We have MORE people unlicensed and uninsured because of these laws, not less, ironically.

Mark Hogberg said...

"More people unlicensed and uninsured because of these laws." so the absence of the law increases the amount of insured folks; absolute nonsense.

Anonymous said...

I have an offer for an article I'd like you to write about - get an unbiased prospective. I honestly think you could nail prospective on it. We will compensate your work. Bring it back to east Texas. - Kristie Vaughn.

Anonymous said...

Having a vehicle and claiming inability to afford insurance is an easy problem to fix...impound the vehicle.

Anonymous said...

If you have ever been seriously injured in an accident (like I have) by someone who was uninsured, you'd be singing a different tune!

So you are saying that because someone is poor, they get to skate. Where's the "poor bracket"? Who decides the "poor bracket"?

And in the meantime, just like with freaking healthcare, people like me pay for all kinds of insurance because it's the law! And because others won't pay it causes insurance to rise. Then it becomes too expensive for those that won't pay. See the irony here?

If you are going to be an adult and drive follow the laws! We can't have one set for those that do and those that won't!

How about putting people on installment payments. If they miss one payment on their traffic fines, then take away their drivers license. It might (and I use that term with hope) make them abide by the laws!

But I for one am tired of my insurance going up because others won't act responsibly.

One example and I will quite. I had an employee who wouldn't add her daughter to her great company provided healthcare plan. Instead she wanted to be able to buy a new car every two years. I was driving the same car for 10. So her daughter got really sick. She ended up in a Children's hospital for 3 weeks. When she applied for indigency with the hospital, guess what? They verified her income. Which was $35K a year in 2000. They denied her request of indigency and she was hit with an extremely large hospital bill.

Gee, only if she had added her daughter to her company provided healthcare like I told her to do being a "responsible parent"!

I have absolutely no sympathy for adults not being responsible or being selfish and expecting others to bail them out.

Anonymous said...

I thought I was finished with my post of 9:55 but I have one more statement to make.

If you are going to look at statistics, you need to include the number of accidents CAUSED by those that are uninsured versus those that are insured.

I'm going to take a wild guess that more traffic accidents are CAUSED by uninsured drivers than insured drivers. Why? Because their insurance won't go up if they are the cause of an accident. They have less motivation to drive responsibly. They have no financial responsiblity to drive carefully.

But without this statistic, any arguement is incomplete and lopsided!

And since when did a state like California become a guiding influence for Texas? We could always adopt state policies like those of Illinois also. Oh wait, they are bankrupt. If you like California laws, move there! I'm sure you will just love the price of gas in California!!!! And their property prices!!!

Get a grip!

Anonymous said...

When people lose their TxDL,they can get a TxID. So your argument of the below is BS! And if they can get a TxID they can show that to VOTE!

"but that's exactly what happens when Americans can't get the official ID one needs to participate in public life in the 21st century. (E.g., every transaction shifts to cash because credit card companies won't issue credit and no one will take a check without ID.) Grits can't understand why this isn't being treated like the self-inflicted public-safety crisis that it truly is."

Keep bending over like a pretzel for all of your arguments. You keep making our points for us!