News Roundup: Civil Rights Group Sues To End Texas’ Driver Responsibility Program

Our daily look at Texas headlines.

By Becky FogelDecember 6, 2018 1:53 pm

The Standard’s news roundup gives you a quick hit of interesting, sometimes irreverent, and breaking news stories from all over the state.

A civil rights group is suing the Texas Department of Public Safety over its Driver Responsibility Program, saying it unnecessarily pushes low income drivers into debt. The program automatically suspends a person’s license if they fail to pay fines on time for traffic citations, such as driving without insurance or a valid license. And yearly surcharges worth hundreds or thousands of dollars are added on top of the initial fines.

Those surcharges are at the crux of the lawsuit the group, Equal Justice Under Law, filed Wednesday in a San Antonio court.

Phil Telfeyan is executive director of the D.C.-based non-profit.

“We’re not saying that you should be able to break traffic laws with impunity,” Telfeyan says. “We’re not arguing that at all. The surcharges really add insult to injury – they compound the problem. The surcharges in some cases can be more than the fine for the traffic offense itself and they continue for three years.”

The group argues more than 1.4 million Texans have had their licenses unconstitutionally suspended under this program. And while there is financial assistance available to low-income drivers, Telfeyan says these programs aren’t promoted or accessible.

“Under Texas state law someone who is making below 125 percent of the federal poverty line is entitled to have the surcharges waived completely – unfortunately the Department of Public Safety has made it virtually impossible to access those waivers,” Telfeyan says.

The program was launched in 2003 to compel offenders to pay fines – plus, the extra revenue was used to fund trauma centers in rural areas.

Both a Democratic and Republican state senator have already filed bills ahead of the 2019 legislative session to repeal the program.

The PGA of America is moving its headquarters from Florida to Frisco, Texas. This week’s announcement comes after several groups, including the Frisco City Council and Frisco Independent School District approved their part in the $520 million public-private deal. AS KERA’s Stella Chavez reports, students will benefit from the move.

The project will include two championship golf courses and a nine-hole practice course. Plans also call for a 500-room hotel and a 127,000-square-foot conference center.

Under the agreement, Frisco ISD students will be allowed to train at the facility. The school district will get to host golf tournaments there and have access to the clubhouse and hike and bike trails.

Officials say the golf courses could open by Summer 2022.

A U.S. Border Patrol supervisor has been charged with capital murder, and a South Texas district attorney is seeking the death penalty. 35-year-old Juan David Ortiz was arrested in September, and confessed to murdering four women. They were 29-year-old Melissa Ramirez, 42-year-old Claudine Ann Luera, 35-year-old Guiselda Alicia Hernandez and 28-year-old Nikki Enriquez.

Webb and Zapata County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz said in a Wednesday press conference Ortiz targeted sex workers.

“The scheme in this case – from Ortiz’s own words – was to clean up the streets of Laredo by targeting this community of individuals who he perceived as disposable,” Alaniz said.

Ortiz was with the Border Patrol for 10 years.