|By Marty Schladen, El Paso Times, Texas|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Pickett, chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committees, has long agreed that the program has big problems.
For example, it has collected less than half of the
On Monday, Pickett held a hearing to review ways to fix the program as part of an interim assignment by House Speaker
The program imposes annual penalties for three years for traffic convictions including driving without insurance, without a license or while drunk. The annual fees range from
Data produced last year by the
In a listing of the 10 Texas ZIP codes with the most surcharges, four were in
In the midst of calls Monday to abolish the program, Pickett said that might be politically impossible because
"We're not going to do away with the program as it sits," Pickett said. "I just don't see that happening."
Pickett wanted to look at ways to make the program work better, but <person>Edna Staudt, a justice of the peace in
And, Staudt said, hordes of Texans have lost licenses for not paying fees from the program.
"All those 1.3 million people, those are people who are struggling to go to work," she said.
"Those who caused the harm ought to pay for it," Lewis said.
However, he said, the money for trauma care generated by the program might be replaced by a
Lewis said the tax hasn't been increased since the early 1990s.
He said many judges now are much more willing to allow defendants facing their first or second drunken-driving arrests to plead to lesser charges.
Many judges believe the program is unconstitutional and they're unwilling to sock defendants with additional fees -- ranging from
As proof, Hodges cited statistics saying there were 80,000 DWI convictions in 2003, the first year of the Driver Responsibility Program. The number dropped to 57,000 in 2013.
"We have at least as many DWI arrests now as we had in 2003," Hodges said.
"DWI convictions are decreasing because of this program," he said.
Pickett appeared to seize on that as a way to justify ending the program.
"If we can get some facts to back that up, we can take the next step," he said.
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