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Thursday, December 03, 2015

Applying for and obtaining a Texas Occupational Driver's License

Writing as Judge Beebe, with regard to JP Court business:

I have been the Presidio County Justice of the the Peace for Northern Presidio County for 11 full months  now, and one of the more confusing processes I have dealt with deals with Occupational Licenses.

An Occupational License, or ODL, is a form of provisional temporary permit to drive legally for drivers whose license has been revoked or suspended. Applicants have to show a genuine need for an ODL related to school, work and/or "essential household duties". The process of applying for an ODL and is complicated and the Texas DPS web site does a very poor job of explaining how it all works.

This past week I had had four potential applicants come in to see if they could get an order for an ODL, and given the spotty success rate of a few prior people who wanted to get them from me the last few months, I decided to do some research on my own to clarify the steps one would need to take to apply for and successfully receive an occupational license.

First of all, the way I see it, an occupational license is a last resort at receiving permission to drive. It could also be a temporary emergency resort for someone who may have recently gotten a new job or something similar to that which would require one to be able to drive legally immediately. I do not believe an occupational license is a wise way to try to get around paying old tickets or DPS surcharges in the surcharge program (a whole 'nother chapter for a later time on this journal). The time, effort and money involved in trying to avoid the inevitability of paying traffic tickets and/or surcharges would be much better spent in working towards solving the underlying tickets/surcharges. The only way around paying all those fines/fees is to be truly indigent and unable to pay and to then go through the process of declaring indigency and having fines/fees reduced as a result of that. I believe that approach would be a much more reasonable and efficient way to get back to being able to drive legally in Texas for the vast majority of those cases.

The more common way for people to become in the position of applying for an occupational license is to have been arrested for a DWI or other drug/alcohol related driving offense. In Texas, most of the time when someone is detained for DWI or suspicion of DWI, their Texas DL is not returned to them and is suspended. Later there will be a DPS administrative hearing determining what becomes of that license, but in the meantime, the person arrested has no way to drive legally. Often they will come to my office a day or two following the arrest to attempt to get an ODL so they can go to work, etc.

Regardless of why someone is applying for a ODL, here are some of the things an ODL is and some of the things it isn't.
An ODL is a temporary permit to drive and this permit is conditional on terms outlined by the Judge's granting the issuance of an ODL. Terms may include alcohol counseling, restrictions on geographical areas, on vehicles an ODL holder may drive (may be limited to vehicles equipped with an Ignition Interlock System or other provisions) and will definitely have defined times of day (not more than 12 hours out of any 24 hour period). An ODL is usually issued for one year or less. Anything beyond that must be specifically authorized by the Judge's order and the maximum is two years. An ODL holder is required to carry a load of paperwork with him or her at all times when driving and may also be required to keep a driving log that can be investigated at any time by law enforcement or the court. There also may be other provisions beyond those mentioned here.
An ODL is not a regular driver's license. An ODL cannot be used as a CDL replacement. An ODL holder's paperwork and driving activities are subject to the scrutiny of the court. Any violation of any provision of the ODL order results in the possible immediate termination of an ODL.

OK, that covers the basics of what all this is and who it is for.

If you've gotten this far along reading this and would like a paper handout from our JP Court walking you through steps, please come to my office in the Presidio County Courthouse, 3rd Floor, SW corner M-F 8-5 and we will happily give you a 6 page handout with tips and general procedures to follow. Below is a slightly shorter version of what we have compiled in-house, with some of my observations and opinions added.

Now, if you or someone you know has been told to look into applying for an Occupational Driver's License, here are the steps this Court requires. These are steps that are comply with current rules as of 2015. Some courts may issue orders granting an ODL with slightly different parameters or steps. This journal attempts to inform the readers of how to go about applying for one in this JP Court.

First Step: Determine your true driver's license status with DPS. It is possible that you may only need to reinstate your license in some cases. The surprisingly easy website to use is www.texas.gov/driver 

Second Step: Print proper Court forms for both the Petition for Occupational Driver's License asking the Court to issue an order and also the Order for Occupational Driver's License. These forms are available at www.TexasLawHelp.org
 Fill out the Petition as completely as possible before scheduling a hearing with the Judge. Provide some proof of essential need to drive like a letter from employer, school schedule, other affidavits.

Third Step: Go to www.texasonline.com  to purchase a copy of your Certified Abstract Driving Record. The cost is $22.00. You will need you DPS Audit number (the really long number at the bottom of your TDL) to use the online service. If your license has been picked up and you no longer have it, you will need to try to find a photocopy of your license somewhere or request a photocopy for the trooper who arrested you. If none of this works out, you will have to follow the instructions on getting your driving record through the mail, which will take 3-4 weeks and cost $20.
This step is super frustrating since DPS requires your driving record to apply for an Occupational License and most people no longer have their physical license in their possession once the need for an ODL arises. Requiring the DPS audit number (which nobody knows) instead of other more accessible information such as a SS# or other vital stats is another example of needless governmental red tape, and I hope they change their policy eventually.

Fourth Step:  Acquire SR-22 INSURANCE. This is a special, very expensive form of insurance that is now REQUIRED for ODLs. Unlike regular car liability insurance that covers specific vehicles, this insurance cover you, the individual (now classified as high-risk since your license was revoked or suspended). If you allow this insurance to lapse at any time during which you hold an ODL, the ODL will automatically be revoked by DPS as the insurance companies are required to report any lapse in coverage immediately. Some insurance companies will cancel your policy if you let them know you are now going to have to go to SR-22 coverage. there are insurance companies that specialize in SR-22 policies and there is a last-resort state insurance pool. Either way, your payments on an SR-22 policy are probably going to be similar in size to a car payment every month.

Fifth Step: File you papers with the Court and make an appointment for a hearing date. My policy is generally to try to push your application through as quickly as possible to get your situation resolved. If you comply with the terms set above and provide reasonable proof of needing to drive, I will almost certainly issue the Court Order for an ODL. Be sure to bring the $41.00 Court Cost Fee. Cash or money order made out to Presidio County Justice of the Peace. Bring everything required above with you. Incomplete applications will not be approved. If you are not satisfied with the conditions, you have the option to file paperwork in County Court or District Court. If you reside and/or your infraction was in another County, you have the option to try to get an ODL in that County as well. If you neither reside or had your incident that led to your suspension/revocation in Presidio County, you will need to file it in the respective County with jurisdiction.

Sixth Step: Come to your hearing ON TIME and be prepared to answer questions. If your petition is approved by the Judge, you will receive TWO Certified Copies of your ODL paperwork from the Court. One of those sets of copies will be submitted BY YOU to DPS and one of those sets of copies will serve as your temporary ODL permit until DPS processes the order. The entire set of papers and anything else required by the Court such as a driving log MUST be carried in any vehicle at any time the approved petiitoner is driving and must be surrendered to law enforcement or the Court upon demand.

Seventh Step: MAIL IN YOUR PAPERWORK to DPS, Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested with a check made out to DPS for $10.00 for the Occupational License Fee and a check for a DPS Reinstatement Fee you will owe (usually $125.00). find out what you owe at www.texas.gov/driver
Mail all items together to Texas DPS Enforcement and Compliance Service P.O. Box 4087, Austin, TX 78773-0320.  DPS processing can take more than 45 days and your paperwork which allows you to drive without a DPS issued ODL Card is only good for 45 days from issuance. This is why it's the best idea to immediately mail in your paperwork as soon as you receive it. If it takes longer than 45 days to get it back, you may not drive until you have received it. Violations of ODL rules are Class B Misdemeanors and you will go to jail if caught. After you receive everything back from DPS, you still must keep your original paperwork with you at all times you drive. I find this to be somewhat redundant, but these are the rules.


Still sound OK? Not so fast- people with previous arrests (not including an arrest that may have just occurred and resulted in this situation on its own) will have a 90 day waiting period before being eligible to receive an ODL. For previous DWI convictions, the waiting period is 180 days. For multiple convictions the waiting period is one year. Also, if your license was suspended or revoked for Failure to Pay Child Support, you are not eligible for an ODL. Same with people whose licenses became invalid for physical or mental issues.

Lastly, I find that the vast majority of people who are sent to jail in Presidio County are in jail for one of two things; Possession of Marijuana, less than 2oz (Class B MIS) or Driving While License Invalid (Class B MIS). Most of the DWLI charges are a result of failing to comply/pay DPS Surcharge Program Fees. I have always thought this program and its onerous fees assessed after the resolution of tickets exemplify the worst of "no new taxes" State Policy by tacking on fees (not "taxes", Texas!) to everyday procedures. These types of policies inordinately affect the lower and lower income working classes who cannot afford the extra financial burden. The added insult of making failure to pay these fees result in jailable offenses creates a de facto debtors prison situation for those affected. It's shameful and unproductive, I believe, and clogs our jails and prisons with people who really don't belong there. Right now, so many are behind the eight ball or have had a language/understanding barrier regarding the Surcharge Program that Legislators are beginning to talk seriously about a program overhaul. Don't hold your breath, though, as the mountain of "free money" that goes into the General Fund from this program will discourage meaningful reform.

That being said, if you are behind or underwater on surcharges in the DPS Surcharge Program, educate yourself on potential options by reading about the Surcharge Indigency/Incentive Program at www.txsurchargeonline.com

Best of luck, and I hope you found this article informative. Feel free to share this information or provide feedback by leaving a comment. Any non-anonymous relevant comments, positive or negative, will be published. Anonymous comments will not be published.

D. Beebe





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