Earlier this month, DPS began an amnesty program that allows certain folks who are behind on their surcharge payments to lower the payments and in some cases even waive a huge portion of the amount owed! So if you’re behind on surcharge payments, go to this website to enter your information and see if you qualify for the program.
The amnesty period expires in April. Here’s a link for more information about eligibility and other program requirements .
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For those who are unfamiliar with surcharges, Texas law adds a huge administrative fine upon conviction for certain offenses, including DWI, Driving While License Suspended (DWLS), and No-Insurance tickets. The fine is assessed for each of the three years following the conviction and is above and beyond whatever fines, fees, jail time, etc., may be assessed in court for the actual offense.
For example, with a typical first-offense DWI conviction in Travis County, the defendant may spend one or two days in jail at the time of the arrest, then be put on probation for 18 months. As part of his sentence, he will be required to pay a fine, court costs, various other fees associated with being on probation, do community service, attend court-ordered counseling, meet with a probation officer one a month, and submit to random drug and alcohol testing. This is all after paying a lawyer a hefty fee to represent him, of course. The surcharge program means that, above and beyond all of that, DPS also assesses a fine of $1,000 (more under certain conditions) for each of the three years following the conviction, for a total of $3,000.
Needless to say, many people fall behind on their surcharge payments, which means their licenses get suspended. If they’re caught driving after that, they may very well end up with a new conviction for DWLS, which triggers another round of surcharges. It can be a vicious cycle where people end up owing thousands of dollars to the State of Texas that they simply cannot afford to pay.