Thursday, May 08, 2003

House Bill 3588 is Spawned--

Higher fines eyed for rowdy motorists

House bill would add charge for too many infractions.

May 8, 2003

Peggy Fikac Chief, Austin Bureau
Copyright 2003

Motorists convicted of traffic violations would pay higher penalties so the state could spend more on roads and trauma centers under a bill headed for House debate with a push from Gov. Rick Perry.

House Bill 3588 includes an additional $30 in court costs for traffic violations and a state rating system for drivers that would require them to pay additional fees of $100 or more if they rack up too many traffic infractions in a three-year period.

DWI-related offenses could result in annual surcharges of as much as $1,500 for motorists.

The bill is projected to raise more than $200 million a year for the Texas Mobility Fund, which could be leveraged to generate more than $2.5 billion worth of bonds, said its sponsor, House Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Krusee, R-Taylor.

HB 3588 is being pushed as lawmakers face a revenue shortfall topping $10 billion over the next two-year budget period.

The gap, combined with a no-new-taxes stand by leaders including Perry, has led to proposals to cut spending in areas including education, health insurance for children and home-care services.

"This could be the most positive thing that comes out of a rather bleak session," Krusee said.

"We need road expansion, and we need money for trauma. Where are you going to get the money? We can increase taxes, we can increase fees or we can say, 'You know what? If you obey the law, you don't have to pay at all,'" Krusee said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ron Wilson, D-Houston, said roads and trauma care are important.

But he was cool to proposed higher fines, responding sarcastically to the lawbreaker argument.

"Let's make it a $1,000 fine if you're speeding. We could fund all kinds of stuff. ... We could fund health care," he said. "Let's make it a $1,000 fine for a parking ticket, and all those bad lawbreakers can bear the brunt of funding government."

HB 3588, in the form approved last week by the Transportation Committee, is a broad measure that would advance Perry's Trans Texas Corridor plan, in which highways, rails, utility lines and pipes would be located in corridors spanning the state.

For the 2004-05 budget cycle, the bill would generate more than $715 million, with more than $450 million going to the Mobility Fund and $265.5 million for trauma care.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor's office is "working very closely with the legislators on making sure they understand the significance of the bill. ..."

Rep. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, said Perry in a meeting this week focused on the trauma-center funding.

Uresti said he hoped the proposal would help spread out the expense now borne by Bexar County trauma centers serving surrounding counties.

Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said he didn't have a problem with the concept but raised the issue of racial profiling with Perry, expressing concern that "a disproportionate number of minorities and poor people ... end up having to pay these fines."

Besides the additional traffic fees, the bill would give regional mobility authorities power to quickly condemn land to build toll roads just as the state can, Krusee said.

Former House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, the only Transportation Committee member to vote against the bill, expressed concern about that provision and others.

"It's pretty far-reaching," Laney said of the bill.

He said that while some provisions such as one to give the Texas Transportation Commission more power may be necessary, "I don't know whether we need to do it all at one time or not."

Among other provisions, the bill would give the commission authority over railroads.

With regard to traffic violations, the bill would add $30 in court costs to existing penalties for violations including speeding, running red lights or stop signs, parking in a handicapped spot, having an expired registration or inspection sticker or having a tail light that's out, Krusee said.

"It would be pretty hard for you to name something that it wouldn't apply to - except for (parking at) an expired meter," he said.

The bill would set up a "driver responsibility" program. It would assign points to motorists if they were convicted of failing to wear a seat belt (one point) or of committing a moving violation (two points if the violation didn't result in an accident, three if it did).

A driver who accrues six points in 36 months would be charged $100, with $25 added for each additional point.

Someone convicted of drunken driving would pay a surcharge of $1,000 each year for three years.

Anyone with three or more DWI-related convictions would be charged $1,500.

The bill would provide the first money for the Texas Mobility Fund, which was approved in 2001 by voters to allow for state bonds to build roads.

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