Mr. [Barry] Wood is indigent and unable to pay the surcharges to lift the suspension. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) sent Mr. Wood a letter explaining that DPS would be implementing various programs to reduce or waive surcharges for those who cannot pay them, but none of those programs will be in effect until 2011. The letter also provided Mr. Wood instructions for applying for an occupational license.The appellate court disagreed, however, and said failure to pay DRP surcharges did not under law preclude provision of an occupational license. "Mr. Wood’s license is not suspended for any of the listed reasons which would prohibit him from obtaining an occupational license. The statutory list is exclusive, and we cannot expand it."
Mr. Wood then petitioned the trial court for an occupational license, claiming that his license was suspended for his failure to pay the surcharges and that he has an essential need for transportation to and from work and other locations as required by his probation plan. There is no reporter’s record of the hearing, but the clerk’s record shows that DPS submitted a memorandum after the hearing in which it argued that a person suspended for failure to pay the Driver Responsibility Program surcharges is not of the class of people to which an occupational license may be granted. The court denied Mr. Wood’s petition for an occupational license “for petitioner’s failure to pay surcharges or enter into an installment agreement.”
If DPS has been routinely submitting memoranda to courts arguing "that a person suspended for failure to pay the Driver Responsibility Program surcharges is not of the class of people to which an occupational license may be granted," this could open the door for drivers to get occupational licenses if they don't qualify for indigence or amnesty programs the agency will implement in the next few months, certainly within the jurisdiction of the Second Court of Appeals.
Between this ruling and the new DPS rules, a little wiggle room is beginning to open up for the 1.2 million drivers who've lost their licenses in this expensive, self-defeating surcharge cycle to make their way back to becoming legal, licensed and insured. Really, though, best of all would be if the Lege just called the whole thing a failed experiment and passed Rep. Leo Berman's HB 299 to abolish the surcharge altogether.