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Plan to Hike Drivers License Fees Opposed by Left and Right

May 13, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - A Senate-passed bill raising Texas drivers' license fees will die quietly in the House if opponents get their way.

An $8 increase to the cost of a six-year license is just one of a host of new fees to help fund the Department of Public Safety (DPS). Critics say the bill also grants unprecedented new powers to the department.

Provisions of Senate Bill 9 would have a negative impact on immigrants of every status, says Luis Figueroa, a legislative staff attorney with Texas' Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, or MALDEF. Figueroa says the bill has something for everyone to hate, regardless of political leanings.

"Whether it's a fee, whether it's a privacy violation, a civil-rights violation, or an impact on lawfully residing immigrants, we don't think this is a good piece of legislation."

Bill sponsors say SB 9 would make the process of getting a license smoother and quicker. It would also require DPS clerks to verify complex immigration documents, according to MALDEF. Figueroa says that would make it harder, if not impossible, for lawful immigrants to get their licenses.

Advocates of limited government also are concerned about the bill. Heather Fazio, legislative coordinator for the Texans for Accountable Government (TAG) political action committee, says fiscal conservatives should oppose the bill because it is, in effect, a back-door tax to pay for an increase in state spending.

"That's how they're being sneaky about it - not doing it through the budget. Technically it may be revenue neutral, but in reality it is an increase in spending that is going to be paid for by the increase in fees."

Fazio says TAG also opposes the bill because it would "nationalize" the Texas drivers license system by complying with the federal REAL ID Act, which she describes as "an unconstitutional and unfunded mandate."

Figueroa says bill supporters who argue that it would improve DPS services are attempting a "bait-and-switch" because the fees would be used mainly to offset current budget cuts to the department.

"We would have the same lines and the same difficulties in getting driver licenses for many populations here in Texas, but at a higher fee."

The fees would raise an estimated $37 million during the next two years, part of which DPS would spend on automated license-plate readers, a biometric database and additional fingerprint technicians - much of which is to comply with the federal "Secure Communities" initiative for tracking and deporting criminal and undocumented immigrants.

The text of Senate Bill 9 is online at e-lobbyist.com.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX