Lawmakers Trying Again to End 'Driver Responsibility Program'

The Texas Legislature is trying for the sixth time to get rid of the 'Driver Responsibility Program,' which opponents say acts like a 'debtor's prison,' preventing low income people from going to work to earn the money needed to pay the fees, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Opponents say it also 'actively encourages' people to drive without licenses and without insurance, thereby endangering others on the highway.

The Driver Responsibility Program, which dates from 2003, orders steep 'civil penalties' to be imposed on drivers with certain traffic violations, or with a certain number of violations.

State Rep John Zerwas (R-Katy) says the notice of the fines, which are 'civil penalties' imposed not by law enforcement, but by the Department of Motor Vehicles, often comes in the mail months after the violation occurred, and after the motorist has paid the fines and has moved on.

The fees can be huge, $1,000 or more in some cases, on top of the fines.

Zerwas says many low income Texans simply can't afford them, so, in many cases, they go unpaid. That means the driver cannot renew his or her drivers license, and the state gets zero revenue.

"Because of the logistical and operational difficulties, it has generated less than 40% of the anticipated revenue," he said.

Not to mention, in many cases, the very people who are trying to earn money to pay the fees lose their jobs because they can't get to work. Others are pulled over for driving without a license, adding to the onerous fees they have to pay.

"This bill would reinstate the driver's license for those who have lost their license simply because of a fee or a fine that they weren't able to pay," Zerwas said.

This is part of a re-examination of hefty 'fees' the state imposes for many minor offenses, which have had the effect of actually encouraging lawbreaking. In another case, motorists who have had their licenses suspended can be 'deemed' to have driven without a license when they show up at court to pay their fine, leading to more fines and extended license suspensions.

The problem with Zerwas' bill is a 'poison pill' inserted into the original law. As often happens with unpopular legislation, the sponsors of the 'Driver Responsibility Program' designated all of the revenue raised by the program to go toward uncompensatied trauma care at Texas hosptials. That means before the Driver Responsibiliy Program can be amended, lawmakers have to find another source of that revenue, estimated at tens of millions of badly needed dollars annually.

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