Today TMCEC General Counsel and Director of Education, Mark Goodner, sat down virtually with Ned Minevitz, TMCEC TxDOT Grant Administrator and Program Attorney, to discuss an issue that, since March, has been frequently asked on TMCEC’s 800-line for legal questions: “What’s the current state of vehicle registration and driver license offenses in Texas?”
MG: Ned, we are now in our ninth month since the Governor’s State of Disaster was declared on March 13, 2020. While many things have changed for courts with regards to in-court operations, virtual hearings and trials, and so on, certain things have been remained fairly consistent. For instance, Governor Abbott waived vehicle registration requirements on March 16, 2020, and isn’t that still in effect, Ned?
NM: Interestingly, Governor Abbott waived certain vehicle registration requirements via press release. He did so under powers granted to him once he declared a State of Disaster three days prior. The press release does not specify when the vehicle registration requirement waiver will be lifted. Rather, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which issues vehicle registrations, has provided information on the DMV website about the current status of the waivers. According to the website, it is still in effect. DMV further states on their website that it will remain in effect until 60 days after they announce that “normal operations have resumed.” I assume that this announcement will be made on the DMV website, but we will have to wait and see. Another question we have been receiving on the 800-line is which registrations this waiver applies to. My understanding, based on a letter issued by the DMV to law enforcement agencies on April 14, is that it applies to any registration regardless of when it expired. Following the March 16 press release, some people suspected that it only applied to registrations that expired on or after March 16. It is further my understanding, however, that any citations written for expired registration prior to March 16 (the date of the press release) are still valid. As a final comment, Governor Abbott’s press release suspends eight specific provisions of the Transportation Code. Courts should carefully review the press release to see which parts of Texas’s vehicle registration law are currently suspended.
MG: In addition to Abbott’s waiver of registration, he also directed the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to temporarily waive expiration dates for Driver Licenses. This suspension is in effect until 60 days after DPS provides public notice that normal Driver License operations have resumed. According to the DPS website, it doesn’t appear that normal operations have resumed.
NM: Governor Abbott issued this press release on March 18, 2020, two days after the vehicle registration waiver press release. This waiver period not only applies to standard driver licenses, but also commercial driver licenses and some other forms of identification. Unlike the registration waiver press release, this one expressly provides an end point: “60 days after the DPS provides further public notice that normal Driver License operations have resumed.” As of today, you are correct that the DPS website provides that Texas is still in this waiver period. I assume that the resumption of normal operations will be announced on the DPS website, but again, we just have to wait and see. One final interesting nugget from the DPS website is that it provides that “If your Texas DL, ID, CLP, CDL or EIC card expired on or after March 13, 2020, your card is still valid and you are not required to renew at this time.” This indicates two things to me. First, as long as it did not expire before March 13, all of these identification cards are valid until a normal operations announcement is made by DPS. So, hypothetically, if an individual is using a Driver License to prove their identity in a non-traffic setting, the authenticating authority should not reject the license as expired. Second, if an individual’s license expired on or before March 12, it does not become unexpired as a result of Governor Abbott’s press release. Governor Abbott’s press release was issued on March 18, but the DPS website appears to make it retroactive to March 13.
MG: Any final thoughts?
NM: COVID-19’s impact on municipal court operations has been fluid despite the fact that the pandemic has been constant since last winter. Municipal courts really have to stay on their toes to keep up with the numerous orders and guidelines issued by various governing bodies! TMCEC will continue working diligently to provide our constituents with any updates related to vehicle registrations, Driver Licenses, and/or court processes. I enjoyed our virtual chat, Judge Goodner! Happy Thanksgiving!
MG: Thanks for discussing this with me today, Ned. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!