Dear NMA Texas Members,
HB 2068, titled “Relating to the repeal of the driver responsibility program and the amount and allocation of state traffic fine funds; authorizing and increasing criminal fines,” has already passed the full house and passed the Senate Transportation Committee yesterday with no additional amendments. As of today, it is unclear when HB 2068 will be up for a vote in the full Senate. That is why we ask you to email or call TODAY your state senator voicing your opposition to this bill. If you do not know who your state senator is, please click HERE.
Essentially HB 2068 rolls back the “Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Driver Responsibility Surcharge Program (DRP) which on the surface is a good thing. The Driver Responsibility Surcharge Program has allowed DPS to assess additional penalties (surcharges) for certain types of traffic offenses that occurred since September 1, 2003. The surcharges can be additive over time.
HB 2068 stops the additive surcharges but it also eliminates any traffic fine assistance for the poor and indigent. Many groups including the Texas ACLU and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition are in support of HB 2068 but if you look more closely at what the bill will do, then maybe you’ll join us in thinking those endorsements are misguided.
During this session of the Texas Legislature, there have been many bills trying to repeal the DRP. The National Motorists Association strongly believes that this is still not the right bill for repeal because it increases both fees and fines and creates a larger financial burden for many drivers.
Emily Gerrick of the Texas Fair Defense Project has this assessment of what’s wrong with HB 2068:
Is the cure worse than the disease?
Unfortunately, the most likely vehicle for the repeal of the DRP is looking like its solution could be worse than the disease. HB 2068 has passed out of the house and today it passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee without amendments. Most advocates and many legislators were banking on getting a number of important amendments to the bill to make it palatable, but so far none of them have gone anywhere.
HB 2068 would repeal the DRP simply by replacing all the surcharges with increased fines – specifically, a $3,000 fine for Driving While Intoxicated, a $750 fine for driving without insurance, and an increase in the state traffic fine of $20 (on top of existing criminal penalties). Here are the things that make those fine increases potentially worse than the DRP itself.
Unlike the DRP, HB 2068’s fines and fees will no longer have a mandatory indigency waiver
The DRP currently has an indigency waiver program and an incentive program for low-income Texans. People who make under 125% of the poverty guidelines are able to get all of their surcharges waived, and people who make between 125% and 300% of the guidelines can get their surcharges reduced to a more affordable amount.
HB 2068 would replace the DRP surcharges with fines and fees, but it will no longer require full or partial waiver for low-income Texans. Without a mandatory indigency waiver, many people will end up in worse positions than they are currently in.
People will still lose their drivers licenses for failure to pay
The DRP isn’t the only program that takes away drivers licenses for failing to pay something. The Failure to Appear/Pay program under Chapter 706 of the Transportation Code also puts a hold on your license if you fail to pay fines, barring people from getting or renewing their license until the amount is paid in full. Increasing fines will result in more people with holds under this program. And, unlike the DRP, the there is no indigency waiver for these holds.
The $750 insurance fee and the $20 increase in the state traffic fine will add up quickly
Low-income Texans who can’t pay their fines and fees often end up with holds on their vehicle registration. Because they cannot register their vehicles, their cars become moving targets and they get pulled over more frequently. When they get pulled over they usually get multiple tickets – one for no insurance, one for no registration, and one for no valid license. With the new $750 insurance fee and the $20 increase in the state traffic fine, debt will accumulate quickly for low-income Texans.
These increases would not need to be so high if the trauma hospitals were willing to accept the same amount of money that they now receive under the DRP. Instead, under HB 2068 the trauma hospitals would get over $30 million more than they currently receive.
Many people who can’t afford to pay the fines will end up in jail
Even though it is unconstitutional, many people do end up in jail due to their inability to pay fines. Without a mandatory indigency waiver, people who cannot afford to pay the new $3,000 DWI fine may have their probation revoked for failure to pay, or they may have their probation extended until they can pay. In addition, thousands of low-income
Texans go to jail every year for failure to pay traffic fines. Significantly raising the state traffic fine without a waiver will result in more people being jailed just for being poor.
The judges have argued that, if we simply allow them to waive when they see fit, things will be fine. But at present, waiver of fines is exceedingly rare and defendants never know when and how to bring up that they are indigent. Statewide, less than one percent of class C misdemeanor cases are resolved by waiver each year, and only 1.3 percent are resolved through community service. By comparison, 12.5 percent of these cases are resolved through jail credit each year. So I think it is far more likely that a person will go to jail for nonpayment of, for example, the $750 insurance fine than it is that he or she will receive a waiver.