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-The Texas Driver responsibility program was enacted in 2003 through the 78th Texas Legislature
-13 years later this program continues to be incredibly unpopular with Texans.
-This program has been largely been unsuccessful at generating the revenue and compliance rates its creators predicted, and may even have worsened the problems it was aimed at alleviating.
-here are serious questions about this program's constitutionality as well as its practicality.
WHAT ARE SURCHARGES?
The Driver Responsibility Program (DRP) can be found in Chapter 708 of the Texas Transportation Code. The DRP requires the Texas Department of Public Safety to apply surcharges to individuals with certain traffic convictions. “Each year, the department shall assess a surcharge on the license of a person who has accumulated six or more points under this subchapter during the preceding 36-month period.” (Sec. 708.053) .Today these offenses included “two points for a moving violation of the traffic law ...three points for a moving violation ...that results in an accident .Sec. 708.052. The amount of a surcharge under this chapter is $100 for the first six points and $25 for each additional point for three years .Sec. 708.054.
Surcharges are also assessed for “offense[s] relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated which’’, costs those convicted “$1,500 per year for a second or subsequent conviction within a 36-month period... and $2,000 for a first or subsequent conviction if it is shown on the trial of the offense that an analysis of a specimen of the person's blood, breath, or urine showed an alcohol concentration level of 0.16 or more” , for three years.
Another way surcharges are also assessed for (DWLI) Driving While License Invalid and Driving without Financial Responsibility which ranges in cost from about $125-$250 for three years (Sec. 708.103)
The stated purpose for Texas Drivers Responsibility program was to “enhance public safety”. This would be accomplished, according to its creators and supporters,
1.Through deterring individuals from committing certain offenses
2.Through funding Trauma care facilities.
-However, both this bill's stated purpose and its ability to accomplish its goals have faced criticism.
For example: while the stated purpose of this bill was to improve public safety its detractors say it was actually created for other purposes. A report created by the Criminal Justice Coalition describes the creation of the Texas Driver's Responsibility Program as the answer to a, “$10 billion budget shortfall that year,...[that], lawmakers saw as an, “ innovative way to fund Texas trauma centers and to generate much needed revenue for the state” (Adair, 2013).
Another report by policy consultant Scott Henson cites this program's creation as a way to pay for “then-Governor Rick Perry’s Trans- Texas Corridor program”,which failed to pass while its funding mechanism lived on” (Henson, 2015).
*The goals or intended purposes of this program have ultimately resulted in revenue that has been used to fund Trauma care facilities. However as the program has failed to meet its previously stated goals as under 40% of the addressed surcharges were collected (Henson, 2015)
DOES THE PROGRAM WORK?
-In short, No.
1.There has been little, if any evidence to show that this program has made Texas drivers any safer. In fact, statistical data indicates “that even though overall traffic fatalities have decreased somewhat in recent years, data indicate that the DRP has failed to change driver behavior...From 2003 to 2013, the percentage of fatal automobile crashes in Texas that involve alcohol increased from 26.3% to 32%.
2.The Texas Driver Responsibility Program has left more motorist uninsured because they cannot obtain licenses. (Hennek, 2016).
WHAT DOES THIS TELL US ?
Because of this program's shortcomings, it has been amended time and time again and to meet its financial goals. However this program's inability to fulfill its original stated purpose of improving public safety has resulted in little or no changes. This suggests that for many Texas lawmakers, this program importance is in its ability to generate revenue for the state whether or not it improves public safety.
*Although detractors from this idea suggest the funding appropriated from this program to trauma care facilities makes Texas safer, the revenue from this program has continually been funneled into the state’s general revenue fund (See Fox, 2013)
The legislation that created this program contains more text from amendments than the original legislation itself, which begs the question of why this program was not just repealed instead. These amendments largely focus on how to increase revenue and compliance through a number of tactics and measures.
Despite this, in the 13 years since its inception, legislators have failed to change the program to ameliorate the social problems it causes, as well its low collection rates.
Legislation passed in 2007 allowed DPS to use new collection methods in an effort to improve compliance. The bill amended Chapter 708, Texas Transportation Code, to authorize more extensive collection techniques, the reinstatement of installment plans, amnesty programs, and a reduction in surcharges or the number of years a surcharge would be paid when an offender demonstrates improved behavior (Transportation Code, 2015).
Legislation passed in 2009 required DPS to establish an indigency program and amended notification requirements used when collecting fees. This bill changed surcharge collection requirements so a person's most recent forwarding address must be used when mailing a notification. The notice must include the total amount of the surcharge, number of monthly payments required in an installment plan, and minimum monthly payment. A second notice is sent if no payment is made within 45 days, and a third letter notifies a person their driving privileges are suspended if no payment is made after 60 days (Transportation Code, 2015).
Later in 2011 the legislators tried a different approach to increasing compliance and revenue seen in Section 708.157(b) of the Transportation code which created an indigency program and allowed people to pay in one lump sum. “The department by rule shall offer a holder of a driver's license on which a surcharge has been assessed an incentive for compliance with the law and efforts at rehabilitation, including a reduction of a surcharge or a decrease in the length of an installment plan.”
WHAT ABOUT THEIR CONSTITUENTS
The Texas Driver Responsibility Program continued to divide lawmakers as major attempts to reform and repeal this program drew attention all over the state. In 2013 and 2015 public pressure as well as prominent lawmakers pressured congress in a public battle against this program, but ultimately failed (Ellis et al., 2015).
WHAT ELSE THIS TELLS US
-This happened as this legislation and the talking points for keeping this program place have largely involved funding for trauma care facilities. This is important because, while the Trauma care facilities provide important services, the creation of harsh penalties to pay for them, may set unsettling precedents.
- As critics of this program have claimed political failures, gains, or increased revenue as the purpose purpose this program, may be example of what is referred to as, “The Law as a Cloak for power”.
-The state has managed to classify these penalties as administrative fees (Texas Department, n.d.) to evade constitutional protections which prevent double jeopardy.
-Likewise, these fines have ultimately led to incarceration for some people, who have had their licenses suspended because they were unable to pay fines.
-This contradicts the United States ban of debtor’s prison and the practice of jailing people for inability to pay a fine
-The federal government outlawed debtors prison in 1833 which was reaffirmed 1983 in the unanimous Supreme Court decision, Bearden V. Georgia citing the 13th Amendment (FindLaw.com).
-This becomes particularly problematic as a number of journalist have exposed municipal courts all over the state of Texas providing no alternatives such as community service to pay fines. Likewise, the surcharge program even though today, it now offers a means tested indigency program offers no alternative to paying off these fines(Lazano, 2016) & (Whatchdog.org).
-Critics of this program argue that its creators seem to have gone to great lengths to generate legislation that uses the ambiguity in the constitution to infringe on constitutional principles. These critics also argue, that this legislation has created undue hardships on Texas drivers, and done little to create greater safety.
-This ultimately points to legislators whose interests may not be in either of two most socially acceptable rationales for law creation and preservation which are to protect constitutional ideals or to meet the needs of the people they serve.
In short, the this program and it’s continued existence may be the result of lawmakers who got paid to support it .
This is because this bill may have been aimed at creating revenue for the state in order to help pay for Trans Corridor roads program Rick Perry advocated for.
Secondly, it is important to examine the lobbying firms and campaign contributors to the creators of the Texas Drivers Responsibility Program who would benefit from the Trans Corridor Program.
A. 4 of the 6 authors or co-authors of this bill having left office to enter lobbying firms. See (Rauf&Hart, 2016)(Texans for Public Justice, 2013) (Mann,2012)
-For example: Ted Delisi left congress to join , “The best-paid lobbyists” in Texas owned by his family, Delisi Communications and Made $1.4 million in 2013 from only 38 different clients , many of whom benefit from construction contracts through the state of Texas (Sherman, 2013) (Wheat,2012) .
B. Many of the authors received large campaign contributions from people that would benefit from the package of bills that would benefit from these construction efforts (Followthemoney.org candidate-Taylor n.d.)(Followthemoney.org contributor-Doyenne n.d.). This is particularly prevalent in the 2002, before the 2003 session which the Texas Drivers Responsibility Program would become law.
C. Mike Krusee who was responsible for large parts of the Texas Driver Responsibility Program ultimately received his biggest the contributions from Associated General Contractors of Texas ($10,250.00), Texas Aggregates & Concrete Association (8,000), and the late James Douglas Pitcock Jr. ($10,000) who is the sole shareholder of Williams Brothers Construction - and the biggest recipient of highway contracts(Votesmart, n.d.).
Adair, Craig. “The Driver Responsibility Program: A Texas-Sized Failure.” Edited by Molly Totman and Kim Wilks, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, 1 Feb. 2013, www.texascjc.org/driver-responsibility-program-texas-sized-failure-0.
An issue Breif - Drivers Responsibility Program.” Fox, Jennifer, 2013, www.lbb.state.tx.us/Documents/Publications/Issue_Briefs/368_CJ_Driver_Responsibility_Program.pdf.
“CHAPTER 708. DRIVER RESPONSIBILITY PROGRAM.” TRANSPORTATION CODE, www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/TN/htm/TN.708.htm.
Ellis, Burton, Garcia, Hall, Huffines, and Pickett. "Texas SB93 | 2015-2016 | 84th Legislature." LegiScan. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2016.
Findlaw.com. "BEARDEN v. GEORGIA, (1983)." N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. .
Followthemoney.org. "ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF TEXAS - FollowTheMoney.org." ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF TEXAS - FollowTheMoney.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016. .
Followthemoney.org. "TAYLOR, LARRY - FollowTheMoney.org." TAYLOR, LARRY - FollowTheMoney.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2016. .
Hennek, Elizabeth. “The Texas Smart On Crime Coalition .” Written Testimony 2016- House Committee on Homeland Security &Amp; Public Safety, 2016, www.legis.state.tx.us/tlodocs/84R/handouts/C4202016032909001/903d9877-6ede-42d3-ac53-8d8f392b24b8.PDF.
Henson , Scott. “Repeal Texas’ Driver Responsibility Program And Identify Alternative Funding Sources for Trauma Hospitals.” Texas Criminal Justice Coalition , Texas Criminal Justice Coalition , 2015, publicpolicycenter.texascjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/TCJC-Fact-Sheet-SB-93-Driver-Responsibility-Program.pdfb.
Krusee et al. “Bill: HB 3588 Legislative Session: 78(R).” 22 June 2003.
Lazano, Juan. "Report: Texas Courts Jailing Poor Who Can't Pay Fines." KVIA. N.p., 06 Nov. 2016. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. .
Mann, Dave. "Who Really Runs Texas? - The Texas Observer." The Texas Observer. N.p., 31 Oct. 2012. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. .
Rauf, David, and Patricia Hart. "Lawmakers Use Campaign Cash to Jump-start Lobbying Careers." Houston Chronicle. N.p., 18 Mar. 2016. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. .
Sherman, Ben. "Texas' "Lobbyist-Consultant" Problem." Burnt Orange Report. N.p., 31 Dec. 2013. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. .
Texans for Public Justice. "Corporate Campaign Contributions." The SAGE Encyclopedia of Economics and Society (n.d.): n. pag. Texans for Public Justice, 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 3 Dec. 2016. .
Texas Department of Public Safety. Understanding the Driver Responsibility Program (D. N.p.: DRIVER LICENSE DIVISION, n.d. Print. https://www.dps.texas.gov/internetforms/Forms/DL-103.pdf
"TRANSPORTATION CODE CHAPTER 708. DRIVER RESPONSIBILITY PROGRAM." TRANSPORTATION CODE CHAPTER 708. DRIVER RESPONSIBILITY PROGRAM. N.p., 2007. Web. 03 Dec. 2016.
Votesmart. "Mike Krusee's Campaign Finances." VoteSmart.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2016. .
@watchdogorg. "Is Texas Town's Jail a Modern Day Debtors' Prison? - Watchdog.org." Watchdog.org. N.p., 08 Nov. 2016. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. .
Wheat, Andrew. "Master Stroke." The Texas Observer. N.p., 26 Oct. 2012. Web. 03 Dec. 2016. .
Wilder, Forrest. "Time for a Revolt Against the Driver Responsibility Program." The Texas Observer. N.p., 18 Sept. 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2016.