State lawmakers plan to write legislation that would reform a program which requires people convicted of certain traffic offenses to pay a fee in order to keep their driver’s license. In the meantime, a provision that will allow some people to only pay a fraction of the fee is set to go into effect by Oct. 1, according to blogger Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast.

The program, called the Driver Responsibility Program, assesses a financial penalty against people who have racked up too many traffic tickets, driven without insurance, driven with a suspended license or driven while intoxicated. Of those offenses, driving with insurance is the most common reason people get hit with the fee, the blog said.

The “incentive plan” that will go into effect this fall will allow drivers who live in households with incomes between 125 percent and 300 percent of the federal poverty level to pay less in fees. Those who qualify can have their surcharges reduced by 50 percent. They will also have the option of paying the amount over a six-month period, according to the blog.

People who fall below the poverty line can have their surcharge amounts reduced even further under a program created in 2011.

State lawmakers are hoping to make further reforms to the system next legislative session, the blog reported. One catalyst for reform is that of the $3.2 billion in surcharges the state has assessed since 2003, only $1.2 billion has been paid.

Critics say the program creates an ugly cycle where people who cannot afford insurance drive because they need to get to work, the blog said. If they are stopped by police and ticketed, they then get hit with the surcharge, making it even more unlikely they can afford insurance

A couple million people have had their driver’s licenses suspended due to unpaid surcharges. About 1.2 million licenses are still suspended. That issue is exacerbated by the fact that people with a suspended driver’s license have difficulty getting an occupational license from the state, which can further negatively impact their financial situation, the blog said.

Surcharge money is supposed to go to trauma hospitals to help them pay for uncompensated care. But the state has not been passing all the money along to hospitals. Instead, it has used some of the money to help balance the state budget.

If you currently have a surcharge this is certainly something you need to keep up. There are already some limited options for relief, but this would obviously expand that. Surcharges are especially significant in driving while intoxicated cases, where you have to pay $1,000 a year for three years. If this is a problem for you, you may want to talk to a lawyer about what options you have.

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 35 years.
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