A program that was supposed to make Texas roads safer and raise money for trauma care by putting fines on drivers convicted of some traffic violations is being called a wreck.
Some lawmakers are vowing to get the Texas Driver Responsibility Program off the road. Forty states and D.C. have something similar to the driver responsibility law, but Michigan has just repealed its measure.
The Texas GOP has made repealing the Texas law part of its state party platform. They call it failed public policy.
Texas drivers ticketed for certain violations or multiple violations can find themselves buckled in with surcharges above the cost of the ticket that’s costing some people their driver’s license.
Lancaster Municipal Court Judge Valencia Nash holds court twice a month for people in the state's driver responsibility program. Started in 2003, the program was supposed to enhance public safety. It was also meant to increase funding for uncompensated trauma care by charging additional fees for offenses like speeding, driving while intoxicated and driving without a valid license.
If the fee was placed on you, it must be paid annually for three consecutive years. It’s something some don’t know.
“A lot of people think they paid $130 or $140 and they're done, only to have their license suspended the following year,” said attorney Larry Taylor.
It has been criticized for failing to properly notify offenders and disproportionately harming the poor by trapping them in a cycle of rising fees.
Republican State Senator Don Huffines wants to get rid of the law and the debt that’s been accumulated behind it.
“It’s simply a new debtors prison is what it is. It’s imperative that we get rid of it,” he said. “Do you know that almost $2 billion is owed to the state of Texas in this program. Almost 2 billion. Over one million Texans have lost their driver’s license on this.”
Plumber Nolan Gomez was in court making sure all fines and surcharges have been cleared up. He'd been stuck unable to drive and unable to work.
“I got my license back ‘cause they had suspended it for a good little while,” he said.
With his fines and fees cleared, Gomez gets three months of probation and is free to drive. But if he gets another citation, he'll face another three-year cycle of surcharges.
“I can get back on the road and take care of business,” Gomez said. “Now, I can drive and don’t have no worries.”
Senator Huffines says it is a bipartisan effort to repeal the law in the next legislative session. He says lawmakers can find a better revenue stream to help emergency trauma centers cover costs of patients who don't pay.