Monday, January 28, 2019

Senate Finance debate ignores policy solutions to excessive DPS license-center lines

The Texas Senate Finance Committee this morning had a quite-animated discussion over long lines at DPS driver license offices. But nobody yet has raised the topic Grits considers the most significant in this debate: state-driver's-license-revocation policies contributing hundreds of thousands of extra people annually to DPS license-center lines. I'd written about these issues last fall.
Sen. Kirk Watson bemoaned DPS asking the state to throw money at the problem without a plan to fix it. He's right.

To me, there are obvious policy solutions to reduce the number of people unnecessarily in line at driver-license centers. But first, the state must stop the myopic focus on solving the problem through staffing, and focus on measures to reduce the number of people in line.

It's not that more staffing wouldn't help, especially in the Customer Service Center where drivers' questions might be answered over the phone without waiting in line at the license center. But the biggest problem, by a country mile, is that Texas suspends more driver's licenses than any other state.

Most suspensions occur because of the Driver Responsibility surcharge. About 3 million drivers have incurred 16 million surcharges since its inception. Of those, 1.4 million  currently have suspended driver's licenses. Another 300K have suspended licenses because of unpaid traffic tickets. Adding all these people with complex license-restoration cases into the lines at DPS when they otherwise may not need to renew for years contributes greatly to long license-center lines. How could it not? A conservative estimate of the number of additional, unnecessary license-center visits generated annually because of driver-license suspensions runs into the high nine figures.

There are other, smaller contributors to license-center lines: E.g., 100,000 sex offenders are not only required to maintain registry requirements with the state, they must renew their driver's licenses annually. There's no added safety benefit to doing both, and it's making the lines for everyone else longer.

Similarly, everyone convicted of marijuana possession has their license suspended for six months, after which they must go back to the license center to get it renewed. There's no public-safety reason for these extra license renewals, and they also make the lines longer. The state Republican Party platform endorsed making pot possession a civil offense, in part to avoid these sorts of collateral consequences.

Here's an outline of budget and policy measures that would reduce license-center lines:
  • Eliminate the Driver Responsibility surcharge and give amnesty to the 1.4 million people whose licenses have been suspended over it.
  • Stop requiring sex offenders to renew their driver's licenses annually.
  • Punish low-level marijuana possession with a civil penalty instead of criminal charges to bypass federal license-suspension requirement.
  • Fully fund the DPS Customer Service Center and increase pay for call-center staffers to stop high turnover.
  • Consider renewing licenses every eight years instead of every seven years.
If and when the DRP is eliminated, there will be an initial surge as people with suspended licenses get them renewed. But after that, these measures would dramatically relieve pressure on license-center lines.

The only alternative to reducing pressure on license-center lines is throwing more money at a failing system. No matter which agency is in charge of licensure, there is no third path.


Anonymous said...

Stopping annual sex offender registration at a DPS office is misguided though. Right now offenders register with local police who update a DPS database. RSO license updating is nothing more than a $20 fee and a very short sit with a clerk, they don't even discuss anything, it's just a renewal for them.

Close all the local Police registration offices, reassign those licensed peace officers to actual value added police work, and let RSO's register directly with DPS where they can walk in any business day or even schedule online. Some major metropolitan police departments require more than a months notice to schedule registration.

Why are we paying a detectives sallary when we could be paying an hourly clerk that could process a dozen offenders an hour?

If the goal is to have RSO's properly registered why not make it as simple to do as possible? The state could stop issuing blue cards and make their licenses expire on their registration dates.

Or we could kill two birds with one stone and stop pretending that the sex offender registry is nothing more than the legislature masturbating the scared housewives of Texas... But that's none of my business.

SOFAQ said...

Another heroic blog post by my hero

Long live Grits. Grits is what the true side of Texas is: True Grit: Best western ever made shortly before my hero John Wayne went to be with the Lord: Claim: A letter from a child prompted John Wayne to accept Jesus as his personal saviour in the final weeks of his life. from:

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I didn't suggest stopping annual registration of RSOs, 5:57. I said we shouldn't make them to renew their driver's licenses annually. The two requirements are redundant.

Anonymous said...

That's what I meant, RSO's annually renew their licenses at the DPS office, I was incorrect in using the word registration.

What I'm saying is having them report to DPS who maintains the Sex Offender Registry and has more accessible business hours and lower cost employees is more efficient than having them register with their local police department.

If all 254 counties had only one officer detailed to sex offender registration (I know some counties have none but some have several so let's just assume one is the state average) and each officer earned $50,000 a year we could free up almost thirteen million dollars And RSO's pay when they report to DPS.

IM 1000% on board with reducing lines at the DPS offices and all the methods outlined are good ways to move forward with that. I'm just cautioning against a "soda straw" view of the problem. If we have a choice for RSO's to report to DPS directly or to report to local PD who then updates DPS, the efficiency gains are with cutting the police out. And reporting directly to DPS is simpler than scheduling an appointment with local police (where sometimes appointment times must be so far out that RSO's are technically failing to register within the prescribed seven day period because the police don't have the manpower to see them), and if the goal is to have them properly registered then making registration services accessible should be the goal.

In some states like Florida, registration can be partially updated online, but I'm not holding my breath for that...

George said...

Here's my take on this whole SO registry debacle, it is a violation of basic constitutional rights such as double jeopardy (since failing to register is a felony) and the ex post facto clause among others. I'm not saying that there aren't people previously convicted of a sex offense who needs to be kept tabs on, but this whole scheme has gotten WAY out of hand.

Each person presently required to register currently has very few ways to challenge being placed on the registry initially, as well as being removed from the registry once they are placed on it. Only a select few qualify under the current laws to apply for deregistration and the process is very costly -- fees to a licensed therapist to administer the testing (approx. $2500.00), attorney fees/court costs etc. Even if you have the money to do that, the whole thing is determined by a judge who has the final say in the matter. Most will not pass muster on this.

First, in my opinion,the registry should NOT be in existence. Second, if a registry is in existence, it shouldn't be available to the public -- the original version of the registry was available only to law enforcement. Third, if a public version is deemed necessary then only the individuals who pose a very high risk ( from using readily available empirically based testing ) should be on the public registry. Fourth, individuals should be able to petition for removal without having to take out a new mortgage, in fact, there should be an automatic removal process in place.

I know the likelihood of the above options being implemented are not likely in today's win-at-any-cost political environment but they are ways to efficiently and JUSTLY deal with the dilemma of registration requirements. At the very least, the state should have the burden of proving that a person is indeed dangerous enough to be place on a registry that basically ends one career and ostracizes not only the individuals on the registry but their family members as well -- including innocent children.

The Static 99R's, (the most widely used screening test used by the Texas criminal justice officials, including probation/parole, to determine risk level) creator Karl Hanson, has supplemented interpretation of the test to include that for every five years of offense free behavior out in the community, the individual's risk level is halved and that after 15 years the likelihood of that individual committing another sex offense is no more than an individual that has not committed a sex offense.

A huge amount of empirically derived data is readily available that shows the ineffectiveness of the registry, residency restrictions etc. The registry places a huge burden on individuals who already have more burdens than they can deal with for the most part. In affect, the registry does much harm than good and, in actuality, places the public in more harm than it would without it.

The Texas that I grew up in should be smarter on issues such as this. There are ways to address the truly dangerous individuals among us without resorting to political indulgences such as public registries and shame on the politicians who hang their hats on such scams. They really don't give a damn about what really is the best solution or best interest of the public at large, they evidently give a HUGE damn about getting reelected and one of the big items in campaigns is proving how tough they are on sex offenders. In my opinion, that's another form of bullying that's gotten completely out of hand.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to George. My family is a victim of the Registry.

My son was arrested and charged with on-line solicitation of a minor. The fact that she had posted her age online as 18 was not at all relevant as a defense. Also not relevant is that 2 of 3 sections of the the law used as a basis for the charges have been found by CCA to be unconstitutional.

Then he was given a choice: Plead guilty before a judge and face a possible sentence of 0-9 years. The alternative was face trial by jury and face 5-99 years for the offense. He did research and at the time juries were handing 20-40 year sentences routinely. So, not being able to afford a competent lawyer he plead guilty to a crime that he was not guilty of committing.

He got a sentence of 9 years. About a month later, the same judge gave a woman -who had had an months long affair with a 13 YO neighbor- she got probation and no jail time.

He is now out on parole, he has taken a course to re-train into a tech job in the oil fields that would enable him to have a job that would enable him to rejoin society. But we have discovered that because of the background checks required by his being in the registry, he has been turned away from 2-3 jobs that would have otherwise been offered to him.

Additionally, he is also obligated to renew his TDL on a yearly basis.

So even though he is trying as hard as he can to rejoin society, the registry is a very severe impediment to his success. He is not alone.

So, like George, I am very skeptical that Texas lawmakers would do the right thing and repeal or make it possible to get off the registry after a certain time. I would like to someday see the elimination of the registries. They just do not work as they were originally designed to do, fact is they don't work at all.

Anonymous said...

My wife recently got a letter from DPS saying she must physically come to the DPS office to provide proof of citizenship and renew her license so they can give her a REAL ID compliant license card. Of course she immediately went in and waited in line for hours.

Her DL expires in December of 2020, after the October 1, 2020 deadline for REAL ID to be required for domestic air travel.

Any id what role the citizenship checks and conversion to REAL ID play in the current DPS shenanigans?

Anonymous said...

DPS could be more efficient if the rules, and regulations were clearer and enforced.

Why is registration & licensing involved with child support, DPS is cutting their own throats?

Why does DPS refuse an American a ID card, even with birth records and mother present?

Everyone needs an ID card for many reasons. They can be stamped student, foreigner, illegal immigrant or whatever.

imnotalone said...

First, l should say this is going to be somewhat of topic, but not too much.

Hi,l found my over here by of William N Grigg's archive posts at Pro Libertate. I'd like to have been aware of his service sooner, to a least thank him.
I do find this site intriguing. Thank you, Mr Grits.

I'm not seeking legal advice
but a little clarity. Is the ambiguity in law intentional?

Years ago I was caught holding after being pulled over for going 2 miles over. My license was suspended for unpaid tickets which is still an issue. You know the routine, court appointed attorney, not too interested in my case. On what l assumed was attorney client privilege. I asked two questions:my name in all caps, is that a strawman and the gold fringe on the flags, is that an indication the courts being ruled in Admiralty Law. Yeah, I found myself taking the exam, twice. Then spent 30 days in Terrell State Hospital.
This caused me to soom research, limited as it was. I began looking up legal definitions. I was struck by the confusion from my perspective. Legal fiction: asserted as true though probable not. This appears to me an assertion that JOHN DOE, is me. Even though the spelling isn't correct (all caps).
Anyway, ya'll know the arguments and I am really suspicious of the motive. Person: has to meanings, am I the legal person on my id or the natural person. How is one to know? Is the assertion a legal fiction until questioned. Then becomes a natural person?

Would someone mind shining some light this way, PLEASE

Sincerely, Landy F.

imnotalone said...

Darn, no edit option LOL

Anonymous said...

Holy hell, Landy F (aka imnotalone). Please get the psychological help you clearly need.

Anonymous said...

The second largest contributor to wait times at the DPS Drivers License Office, behind the Driver Responsibility Surcharge is Landy F quibbling with the clerk...

Gadfly said...

The first anon after Landy? Landy already had a court-appointed version of the help he needs. And presumably decided he didn't need it.


On the registry, I think it needs other edits, too, like different lengths of listing depending on exact nature of the offense.

imnotalone said...

Okay, just to be clear; theres no such thing as a "legal fiction, a "legal person" or "natural person" in law?

imnotalone said...

Ya'll are too funny. I was born in Germany. When my license had to be renewed the state wouldn't accept my German birth certificate. So I couldn't renew without three forms of id. Both my parents are from North Carolina.