News Room

From the Senator's Desk . . .
July 19, 2007

A couple of weeks ago, the local paper printed names of El Pasoans with outstanding arrest warrants. 78,000 El Pasoans made the paper! When we compared Austin, same story: 11% of Austin has outstanding arrest warrants. How did that happen? Here are the facts.

Written by Senator Eliot Shapleigh, www.shapleigh.org

Capitol

Working on the Chain Gang

A couple of weeks ago, the local paper printed names of El Pasoans with outstanding arrest warrants. 78,000 El Pasoans made the paper! What’s going on here?

Here are the facts. Of the 78,000 almost all are for moving violations. In fact, most are violations of the Texas Driver Responsibility Act of 2003. Here’s a breakdown by category of violation:

El Paso Warrants: 59,429 people with 140,244 warrants as of 05/11/07                                                                                                                        

Violation

Amount

TX Points

Cost in Money

Traffic Signal

899

Yes  89%

$143,613.9

Safety Belt

2,976

N

$532,154.92

Motor Vehicle Inspections

10,299

N

$1,625,510.41

Speeding Violation

20,299

Yes if > 10% over limit

$4,841,608.64

Drivers License Misc.

30,387

Yes or Auto. Sur. 76%

$4,532,321.85

Registration Misc.

14,107

N

$2,055,804.44

Red Light

2,164

Yes  70%

$439,343.63

Stopping Misc.

2,319

Yes  74%

$467,839.36

Failure To Yield  Misc.

1,130

Yes  84%

$244,496.81

Failure To Maintain Financial Resp.

34,649

Yes or Auto Sur. 72%

$11,638,882.5

Drug/Alc/Tob Poss.

1,927

N

$422,288.70.

Remaining Violations*

TOTAL COUNTED

19,088

121,156 

 

$3,346165.5

$26,945,332.17

 

GRAND TOTAL

140,244

      38%

$30,291,497

 

2000 Census Population:

563,662

Source: El Paso Municipal Court Records[2]                                        

When we compared Austin, same story: 11% of Austin has outstanding arrest warrants. How did that happen?

In 2003, on the House floor, Rep. Diane Delisi told Texans that the “Driver Responsibility” bill was needed "to improve driver’s behavior."  Everyone in Austin knew that the real story was money. After 9/11, Texans quit buying. Sales tax revenues dropped so much that Texas now had a $10 billion budget deficit. Rather than raise taxes, Republicans cut taxes on the wealthiest Texans, cut programs like CHIP, then shifted fees, tuition and tickets to low and middle income Texans.

During debate, a study of the bill based on New Jersey’s Act showed exactly who would pay the freight—low-income citizens.  To make the bill more popular, ticket revenue was tied to trauma care.

At the time, Senator John Whitmire and others said, "Watch out—here comes the ‘chain gang.'” For the first time, fees, tickets and tuition paid for sizable chunk of the Texas budget.  Under the bill, fees escalate dramatically. Theoretically, after three tickets, a driver can owe $3,000 and more, depending on the offense.

And if you can’t pay, you go to jail.

And that is exactly what happened. Nearly one in ten Texans can’t pay: students, single mothers, working families, essentially low and even middle income Texans whose income can’t keep up with gas, insurance, taxes and tickets too.

Our office has interviewed several Texans listed for outstanding warrants to determine the impact to them.  Names were changed in order to preserve anonymity.

Jane Smith who works in El Paso has close to $3,500 dollars in outstanding tickets. She is behind on her rent. Over the last four months, she had to put in thousands of dollars for car repairs after it was hit in front of her house. Under Texas Driver Responsibility laws she will also face over $3,000 in surcharges.

Joe Martinez works at a local printing press and pays for his own schooling at the University of Texas at El Paso. Martinez was arrested for failure to maintain financial responsibility. Joe has paid a fine of $350 for his violation but confesses to not knowing how he will pay surcharges totaling $750 and maintain insurance over the next three years. If his license is suspended by DPS, he fears being pulled over at citywide checkpoints and receiving additional fines.

Monica Jackson is a single mother, and mentions that rising gas prices and high insurance rates have had a negative impact on her ability to comply with driver surcharges. She feels that she has been put in a tough position where she must choose between being compliant with the law and paying her fines, or providing for her child's needs.

Today, I wrote Senator Carona and asked his Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security to hear Texans on this issue.  During the early years of Texas, thousands came here from England and the East Coast to escape debt (and debtor’s prisons). Today, our own tax system uses the threat of prison to collect trauma care money.

Working on the chain gang makes it awfully hard to pay for a ticket.

Senator Eliot Shapleigh

Eliot Shapleigh

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