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Lawsuit filed over Driver Responsibility Program

This ought to be interesting.

A national civil rights organization on Wednesday sued Gov. Greg Abbott and four top officials at the Texas Department of Public Safety, arguing that the state’s Driver Responsibility Program traps many of Texas’ most vulnerable people in a cycle of debt and hardship.

“This unfair license suspension scheme particularly targets Texas’ most impoverished residents, who are often unaware additional charges are owed under the DRP,” says Phil Telfeyan, lead attorney in the case and executive director of Equal Justice Under Law, the organization behind the lawsuit. “Individuals who cannot pay will often lose their job and their home — becoming homeless — for a minor ticket that wealthier drivers simply pay and forget.”

The 66-page suit is filed against Abbott, DPS Director Steven McCraw, as well as DPS Chairman Steven Mach; Skylor Hearn, DPS’ deputy director of Administration and Services; and Amanda Arriaga, division director of the driver license division. The suit argues the Driver Responsibility Program violates the rights of the its plaintiffs to due process, unfairly impacts the state’s poorest residents, and violates their rights to equal protection under the law.

It is brought on behalf of four plaintiffs, ranging from a 75-year-old San Antonio resident, two U.S. Navy veterans and a man experiencing homelessness after he was unable to find adequate work without a license.

There’s a copy of the lawsuit embedded in the article. Equal Justice Under Law is of course one of the groups that has led the litigation against Harris County’s bail practices, so the state is going to have a real fight on its hands. They have filed similar suits in other states, and you can read their statement about this action here. The original intent of the DRP was to generate revenue for hospital trauma centers, and hospital groups have opposed killing this program on the very rational grounds that the Lege would simply not make up the funding to them if this were cut out. I sympathize with their plight, but there really is no justification for this, and it’s ridiculous that a state like Texas, with good financial resources, can’t help out the trauma centers without imposing an unfair and unequal burden on low income residents. It’s time for the DRP to go, and if the Lege won’t do it, the courts will need to. KUT, which notes that there are bills filed, by Democrats and Republicans, to do away with the DRP, has more.

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8 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    I had a guy who worked for me in this EXACT situation. He accumulated some tickets that had DRP fees, didn’t pay, the penalties mounted, he lost his license, got more for driving with no license, and…..at this point in life, he’s a second class citizen that will never have an actual driver’s license again. He can sit his time out in jail for the traffic tickets and be released, and the ticket is over, but the DRP fee can’t be discharged by sitting in jail OR community service, meaning, he won’t even try to pay, meaning he will go through the rest of his life without a driver’s license.

    He’s a second class citizen.

    The solution here is to have some method for the DRP fees to be worked off with community service if the person who got the ticket(s) can’t pay. I suspect most of the people in this situation are fairly sketchy and wouldn’t avail themselves of the community service option anyway, but there ought to be some mechanism to give them a CHANCE to reenter society.

    I’d even structure some sort of way for these folks to get their license back for a certain time period, maybe 6 months, if they demonstrate they are getting community service hours in and are TRYING to take care of their obligation and are on track to do so.

  2. Greg Wythe says:

    Useful accompaniment reading here: https://www.texastribune.org/2018/08/27/pay-trauma-centers-texas-sinks-thousands-drivers-deep-debt/

    The medical lobby would never allow for non-monetary payment options. The funding stream is at the root of the problem. Nearly every legislator wants to just end the program, but none can find the money to replace funding for trauma centers. It isn’t enough to commit funds from General Revenue to offset the funding loss. You would have to create an entirely new revenue stream to feed into the Dedicated Revenue fund.

    What’s ironic economically is that the collection rate on DRP fines is around 30-35%. If they cut the fees in half, there would be more money ultimately collected. This idea, also, is a non-starter. I’m not sure what odds I’d place on a judicial fix with this lawsuit. But the odds of a legislative fix are far lower.

  3. Manny Barrera says:

    Republicans claim they don’t raise taxes, they do with fees for almost everything. They are worthless lot for the most part.

    They take money from the working men and women to give to the the rich, Robin Hood in reverse.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    @Greg,

    I hear that argument, but consider, the people we are talking about haven’t paid anything and aren’t GOING to pay up, so I think revenue loss will be minimal. How many people are going to spend every Saturday for months picking up trash, for example, if they could just write a check and be done with it?

  5. Paul Kubosh says:

    We tried to get these surcharges dismissed in a Bankruptcy but the Federal Courts said sorry they are not dis-chargeable. I hope they are successful. By the way the surcharge legislation had bi-partisan support. I was there when it passed.

    I actually agree with Manny. He just fails to leave out the Democrats.

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    “They take money from the working men and women to give to the the rich, Robin Hood in reverse.”

    Can i point out that the rich just pay the DRP fees and go on with their life? It’s the ‘working men and women’ that aren’t paying up, apparently. So the rich are subsidizing the cost of trauma care for the ‘working men and women,’ Manny.

    One other thing that is overlooked by all except for the writer of Greg’s article is, these punitive DRP fees were designed to keep unfit people off the road. Driving with no insurance and no license? STOP DRIVING!

    You can’t keep racking up fines if you take the bus.

  7. Manny Barrera says:

    Paul, can’t include them (Democrats) as they have not had control of the state in a very long time, have to place the blame where the blame belongs.

    No Bill, the rich are not subsidizing the trauma care, they hire good traffic lawyers like Paul when they don’t take the classes for the citations.

    Bill things are not black and white, it is mostly gray. There are other ways that the state could raise money if they chose chose that would be more reflective on the ability to pay.That is how they are taking from the poor to help the rich.

  8. C.L. says:

    Don’t want burdensome DPR fees ? Don’t get a ticket.

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