First, there was this.
Despite a two-year budget of $2.4 billion, the Texas Department of Public Safety, with little notice, has reduced office hours at 11 of the state’s busiest driver’s license offices and plans to lay off more than 100 full-time employees to deal with a $21 million funding crunch.
The statewide police agency’s primary function is to patrol state highways and issue driver’s licenses, but in recent years has spent hundreds of millions on security operations along the 1,200-mile border with Mexico.
The effects of the reduced driver’s license office hours were apparent on Monday morning, where nearly 200 customers formed a long, snaking line outside the large DPS facility at 12220 South Gessner. On June 5, the DPS abruptly scaled back operating hours from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the large centers. The offices are still open after 5 p.m. on Tuesdays.
DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said Monday the department is not allowed to use funds set aside for border security to offset shortfalls in other areas of operation, like the driver’s license division. The cuts were necessary after DPS was instructed by state legislators to reduce 2018-2019 funding for the division by 4 percent.
DPS management of the driver license operation has not only angered customers, it is being criticized by elected officials.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said DPS did not notify lawmakers of the reductions in driver’s license operations until after the Legislature adjourned late last month.
“We’re stuck now with a severe reduction in service hours and employees at multiple centers around the state, including two here in Houston in my district, that we know are already overcrowded,” Whitmire said.
“It’s pretty alarming – we leave after sine die (adjournment), and leave (DPS) a budget of $800 million for border security, which involves essentially two border counties, and we leave $11 billion in the rainy day fund, and we have to tell people they’re going to have to stand in longer lines to get a driver license.”
But Sen. Whitmire, just think of all those speeding tickets being handed out in South Texas as a result of our sacrifice. Would that not make it all worthwhile? Perhaps someone realized how bad this all looked, and also considered the voter ID implications, as people who lacked drivers licenses had to get approved state election IDs from DPS offices. If the state of Texas was hoping that its slightly modified voter ID law would be enough to counter a motion to pitch the whole discriminatory thing, then maybe DPS needed to reconsider. And indeed, they did.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has reversed a controversial cutback in staffing hours at 11 of the state’s largest driver’s license offices including those in Houston, Dallas, and El Paso, according to a veteran Houston lawmaker who protested the reductions.
St. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he spoke early Tuesday with the chief of staff for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and at the end of the conversation he was told the schedule reductions were reversed.
Whitmire added that he received an e-mail from Col. Steven McCraw, the DPS director, who confirmed the office hour reductions which were instituted June 5 would be restored.
“I talked to the Governor’s chief of staff, who totally agreed it was unacceptable. At the end of the conversation, it was reversed,” Whitmire said. “And then I heard from McCraw that it had been reversed, and he looked forward to visiting me with any further changes.”
Funny how these thing work. It all worked out in the end, but only because someone noticed. Had that not been the case, this could have gone on indefinitely. Always pay attention to the details.