House Bill 2048 killed the notorious Driver Responsibility Program (DRP) in Texas. Governor Abbott signed this bill on June 14, 2019 and it becomes effective September 1, 2019. DRP required that Texas drivers who were convicted of certain offenses were required to pay hefty annual surcharges on top of fines and court costs in order to maintain a valid license. The following is a list of the offenses that obligated the convicted individual to pay surcharges every year for three years:
These financial obligations snow-balled for over a million Texans, which resulted in their driver’s licenses being suspended. We all know the necessity of a driver’s license in Texas, a state that lacks reliable and frequent rides on public transit, especially in suburban and rural areas. Texans whose licenses were suspended under the DRP were left with an unfair choice: drive to work to take care of your financial responsibilities (including the DRP surcharges) with a suspended license thereby risking additional charges (a Class C misdemeanor which is enhanced to a Class B for the second offense) or not driving to work and losing out on the income necessary to live and to pay surcharges, fines, etc. to the government.
Thanks to House Bill 2048, Texas Department of Public Safety will reinstate all licenses that were suspended solely due to unpaid surcharges on September 1, 2019. Drivers who licenses were suspended for other reasons and/or who owe fines will still need to satisfy those obligations. The repeal of DRP, however, does not mean you should expect a refund for any surcharges previously paid. Also, until September 1, 2019, drivers who owe surcharges are still obligated to make payments or risk license suspension.
While historically expressed as a “fee,” the surcharge was nothing more than a penalty. For many low-income Texans, a simple traffic ticket resulted in an endless cycle of insurmountable debt. It is estimated that the new law will impact approximately 1.5 million Texans.