Facing more than $1.1 billion in uncollected fines from Texas motorists who are driving illegally without licenses, state officials are poised to approve an amnesty program to try to get some of them legal again, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told a Senate committee yesterday two changes expected to be approved soon will allow scofflaws to pay off their fines at big discounts.
Drivers who pay during an amnesty period starting in December could get off by paying 10 percent of their fine, up to $250, and drivers who can prove they are legally indigent can get a similar deal starting in April. “There are $1.1 billion in surcharges that, at present, have not been paid,” McCraw said. “If everyone paid under this plan, about $17 million would be collected.” At issue are more than 1.2 million Texas drivers in the Driver Responsibility Program, which the legislature approved in 2004 to toughen enforcement of traffic laws and to curb drunken driving. Motorists caught driving drunk, without a license, or without proper insurance can incur surcharges of up to $1,000 a year for up to three years, for a first offense, and $1,500 a year for three years for subsequent violations. If the surcharges are not paid, their licenses are suspended. State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh said as many as one in nine drivers in El Paso owe unpaid surcharges – meaning they are driving without licenses.