State Lawmakers: Policy Punishes People for Trying to Follow the Law

Texas lawmakers are trying to end a bizarre practice which punishes people for trying to follow the law, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Advocates told a State House committee that when your license is suspended for not paying traffic tickets, you can't drive. But under an odd twist in the law, if you show up by yourself to court to pay your tickets, the DPS can 'determine' that you drove to the court in violation of your suspension, and tack on another one to two years suspension.

Emily Garrick of the Texas Fair Defense Project says this generally entraps low income people.

"They save up, they scrimp and save so they can pay off their tickets, and then they go in and they think they're going to get their licenses, but then they are hit with another suspension of one to two years, which is triggered because they tried to pay off thier tickets," she told the committee.

She says 135,000 drivers licenses are suspended each year in Texas.

Houston State Rep. James White is trying to do something to end the law allowing the DPS to conduct this type of license suspension.

"Mandatory and departmental suspensions trap people in a never ending cycle of suspensions," he said. "In some cases, people lose hope of ever regaining their license."

Garrick told of one client who has simply given up following the law.

"At that point, he just gave up hope," she said. "He stopped trying at all, he got arrested four times for driving with a suspended license, and that meant that he had to hire an attorney, and pay impoundment fees, and fell deeper and deeper into debt."

The practice was compared to the 'debtors prisons' in 19th century England, where people who are thrown into debt are imprisoned so they can't work to pay off that debt. Supporters say if a person doesn't have a driver's license is difficult for that person to get a steady job, which is needed to pay all the tickets and fees that pile up.



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