A webinar is an educational course or class that is taught entirely online. TMCEC webinars are designed to be single-issue courses that are generally one hour long.
What makes TMCEC webinars a unique learning experience?
TMCEC webinars are designed to cater especially to municipal court personnel by covering specific issues pertinent to courts. Additionally, TMCEC has been producing and offering webinars since 2006, giving us lots of experience in developing compelling educational content through webinars. The combination of these specially cultivated topics and being able to pull from a large pool of excellent faculty members results in a truly unique experience.
Who can watch a webinar?
Any TMCEC constituent can watch a webinar. This includes judges, clerks, court administrators, prosecutors, and juvenile case managers. Bailiffs and warrant officers can also watch webinars, but online training is not offered for TCOLE credit.
To watch a TMCEC webinar, what do I have to do?
The easiest way to find webinars is to go to tmcec.com and click on the OLC link as pictured below:
Once you are in the OLC, click on the webinars icon as pictured below:
How many webinars are available on the OLC?
TMCEC offers both live and on demand webinars. Live webinars are typically offered twice a month at 10:00am on Thursday. If you cannot make a live webinar, the webinar becomes available on demand within 24 hours. TMCEC maintains an on demand webinar bank that currently offers approximately 250 webinars. This number can fluctuate as new webinars are added and older offerings are removed if they become dated or obsolete.
How is a webinar different than a virtual seminar?
A virtual seminar is a collection of classes tied together by a topic or theme that are presented sequentially. Webinars are single, self-contained offerings designed to address a focused issue or concern.
Why would someone want to earn some or all their hours via TMCEC webinars rather than a virtual seminar?
Webinars are the best chance at educational freedom within the prescribed rules of judicial education and the clerk certification program requirements. This is an opportunity for court personnel to choose the topics they want to hear and when they want to hear them. They also have the freedom to watch webinars for judicial education credit, CLE credit, clerk certification credit, or any combination.
Webinars are perfect for those that only need a few hours. Perhaps they received 8-12 hours of credit at a virtual or in-person seminar. Webinars can help fill the gap towards meeting minimum hours. Of course, satisfying educational requirements is not the only reason why someone would want to watch webinars. Many people find webinars to be useful to brush up on specific topics or to stay up-to-date with current developments and it is not unusual for viewers to far exceed the minimum hours required by the Rules of Judicial Education, the State Bar of Texas, or the Clerk Certification Program.
Why is the 2021 Academic Year different than other academic years when it comes to webinars?
On March 30, 2020, The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued an Emergency Order Regarding the Rules of Judicial Education. The order suspends all sections of the Rules of Judicial Education that require live, continuous hours authorizing judges to obtain required judicial education hours by electronic means. Under the Rules of Judicial Education, municipal judges are typically required to complete a certain number of continuous hours at a live TMCEC seminar, depending on how long they have been a judge. With this suspension, judges can now satisfy all 16 hours through webinars, should they choose to do so. As written, this order is in effect throughout the state of disaster and for 30 days thereafter.
This morning, my colleague, TMCEC Deputy Counsel Robby Chapman, presented a webinar on Records. In his introductory remarks he mentioned the Eight Purposes of Courts from Ernie Friesen. In September 2016, I wrote the following about the purposes on an earlier version of this blog. In the wake of this morning’s webinar, now is the perfect time to visit these eight purposes again.
The Eight Purposes of Courts
In 2016, I had the privilege of attending a three day course titled Purposes & Responsibilities of Courts. It was my sixth and final course needed to become a Certified Court Manager (CCM) through the National Center for State Court’s (NCSC) Institute for Court Management (ICM). I was fortunate to be one of 45 court professionals from across Texas that graduated on Wednesday, August 10, 2016. The courses were offered in partnership from NCSC and the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center (TMCEC). All of the courses were wonderfully educational, and I enjoyed them. This final course, led by Dr. Anthony Simones of the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator, was a great way to end the certification program. It really reminded all of us why we do what we do.
One portion of the course identified eight purposes of courts, that and I’d like to share them with you.
1. To Do Individual Justice in Individual Cases
This first purpose really spoke to me as I think it is crucial to remember in our municipal court world here in Texas. In our courts, many of us deal with incredibly high volume. We often say in our training that we see more people in our courts than in all other courts combined. With all of these cases coming before our courts, it is easy to think about “the forest,” but lose sight of “the trees.” Each of these cases involves individual persons, and they deserve individual justice. Each person should be heard and treated with appropriate respect and attention. This means keeping in mind that while the case may be one of dozens we deal with during the course of a day or week, this case is most likely a singular concern to the defendant. To do justice, we must apply the law to the facts before us–the facts of that specific, individual case as opposed to applying some general guidelines that may not be appropriate for the case.
2. To Appear to Do Individual Justice in Individual Cases
This second purpose may sound odd at first. Absent the context of following the first purpose, it would sound empty or even false–as though appearing to be just was the concern more so than being just. And even with the context of the first purpose, this purpose still seems strange on first glance. Isn’t it superfluous? If we are actually doing individual justice, then how important is it to appear to be doing justice? The more I thought it about it, the more important appearing to do justice became.
You’ve probably had times working in the court where you’ve had to deal with an unsavory defendant, a pushy defense attorney, or an angry prosecutor. You may have even thought to yourself that you are going to give this person justice whether they know it or not and move on to the next one. This can be dangerous thinking, however.
Consider the Canon 2 of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. In it we are told that in all of the judge’s activities, impropriety and the appearance of impropriety shall be avoided. This ideal should not be limited to the judge’s activity; it should be the goal of all court staff. We should all promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and not allow an impression that anyone is in a special position to influence the judge.
Appearing to do justice may take a bit more time. It may entail explaining why something is being done, or why something cannot be done. It may entail reassuring defendants of their rights and explaining how they are being protected in the court. Not every defendant will leave getting what they want, but every defendant should leave knowing that they were treated fairly and why the outcome turned out the way it did.
3. To Provide a Forum for the Resolution of Legal Disputes
This may appear to be more closely aligned with a court handling a civil lawsuit, but many of our cases to boil down to a legal dispute. Law enforcement or a city official may feel that a person has broken the law. The accused may disagree and has a right to dispute that. At the court we provide a venue for this to be resolved with fairness and neutrality. It is important that this forum exists, so that people don’t take matters into their own hands.
4. To Protect Individuals from the Arbitrary Use of Government Power
The very existence of our laws reflects our country’s (and by extension our state and city) desire to be ruled by law as opposed to man. Prior to the Magna Carta, the King could act purely on his own without being subject to any checks or limitations. English Barons confronted the King of England and demanded that certain rights be written down and that the King respect those rights and abide by the rule of law.
Centuries later, our system of laws and the structure of our government protects individuals from the arbitrary use of government power. As courts, it is our job to ensure that governmental powers are not abused, but that they follow the law.
5. To Provide a Formal Record of Legal Status
At first glance, this seemed more applicable to a court handling divorces or bankruptcy or immigration, but in reality we spend a good deal of our time and resources documenting everything that happens in our courts. The reason we do this is that it provides a formal record of one’s legal status.
Over 75% of municipal court cases in Texas are traffic cases. The process as well as the outcome of those cases very frequently has an effect on the person beyond whether they must pay a fine. Our formal record and our reporting may determine whether they can still legally drive, whether they can renew their license, whether they can register their vehicle, whether they can take another driving safety course, and how much they must pay for auto insurance. Additionally, our formal record may prevent someone from possessing a firearm in the future, and it may determine whether they must pay a surcharge or whether they must be committed to jail.
This purpose stresses to me the importance of accurate case files and court reports, and this will be reflected in our academic programs this coming year.
6. To Deter Criminal Behavior
One of the foundations of criminal justice is deterring criminal behavior. What happens to the defendant in our court can serve to deter future criminal behavior. The purpose here is not deterring the criminal behavior of the person before us, but rather deterring criminal behavior in the rest of society. In a nutshell, if people that break the law face a consequence and are held accountable, then others may think twice before breaking the law.
7. To Rehabilitate Persons Convicted of Crime
Rehabilitation probably doesn’t come to mind when you think of the payment of the fine. However, there are many situations in municipal court where rehabilitation can come into play. First of all, driving safety courses are very common and are one way our courts are involved in rehabilitation. The hope is that drivers who complete a driving safety course will become better, safer, and more educated drivers. We hope to rehabilitate their poor driving. Another common example of rehabilitation related to fine only misdemeanors is deferred disposition. A simple conviction and fine may not rehabilitate someone, but if, as a reasonable condition of deferred disposition, a defendant is ordered to complete a drug or alcohol class, attend counseling, or complete community service those can be effective steps toward rehabilitation.
Our laws related to juvenile defendants reflect this rehabilitation purpose most closely. If a young person is convicted of an offense in the Alcoholic Beverage Code, they must be sentenced to a type of rehabilitation such as an alcohol awareness or drug education class, as well as complete some community service.
8. To Separate Convicted Persons from Society
While this is a purpose of courts generally, it is not a central purpose to our courts. It is true that sometimes people are placed in jail by a judge in relation to a fine only misdemeanor, but the purpose is not to separate them from society. The purpose in this situation is to ensure satisfaction of the judgment, when the person has failed to satisfy the judgment.
This purpose can be seen with higher level offenses that do involve jail time. This time separated from society is punishment, and hopefully serves to protect the rest of society.
Reading about and hearing these purposes led me to think about why we do what we do in our courts. I think doing individual justice and appearing to do justice should remain in the forefront of our thoughts all the time as judges, clerks, and court personnel. Perhaps it is no coincidence they are numbers one and two.
Do you agree with these purposes?
I am thankful that I was able to go through this training and become a certified court manager. For more information about these purposes, check out this video:
TMCEC General Counsel Mark Goodner and Deputy Counsel Robby Chapman discuss The Supreme Court’s 36th Emergency Order and the OCA webinar offered on the topic on March 8, 2021.
MG: In the wake of the Governor’s order last week, The Supreme Court issued the 36th Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster on Friday, March 5th. On Monday, March 8th, OCA held a webinar about the changes. You and I were both able to watch this. What were the biggest takeaways for you, Robby?
RC: From a policy standpoint, it was interesting to see the Supreme Court deviate significantly from the direction that the emergency orders had been taking for the last year regarding local decisions on court operations. The 1st Emergency Order a year ago this month included many of the basic provisions that we would see in later orders. But the 26th Emergency Order in September 2020 expanded on this and added provisions specifically referencing Chapter 74 of the Government Code and the authority of regional presiding judges (RPJ) to oversee and approve the operation of municipal courts under the order. This was supplemented by OCA Guidance in June and then December that required any municipal court to submit an operating plan for approval to the RPJ. The 36th Emergency Order completely removes these references. And as confirmed in the webinar on Monday, authority is essentially being returned to the municipal presiding judges. There are no longer requirements to submit an operating plan or recertify an operation plan to the RPJ and Office of Court Administration (OCA). Based on the trend in earlier orders, this was certainly not an expected change!
MG: After the Governor’s Executive Order No. GA-34 dropped on March 2, 2020, we all were waiting to see how the emergency orders and guidance from OCA would be affected. We were impressed that we got COVID Update #20 just a few hours after GA-34, but in that update we knew something else was coming before GA-34 went into effect on March 10th. How did you feel about the timing of this 36th Emergency Order?
RC: From a purely selfish standpoint, I thought the timing was unfortunate since we had just wrapped the North Texas Virtual Regional. Many of our talking points in the Keynote became moot with the changes literally one day after we discussed them. I think one of the biggest was the directive in the 33rd Emergency Order that courts “must continue to use all reasonable efforts to conduct proceedings remotely.” (emphasis added). We spent a lot of time discussing this provision, as it was reflected not only in the emergency orders, but also the official guidance from OCA and in a memo released by the Conference of Regional Judges in July 2020. The 36th Emergency Order makes a small, but incredibly important change to that sentence. It now reads, “courts should continue to use all reasonable efforts.” (emphasis added). That is a pretty big change. As any lawyer knows, words matter! That said, the basic provisions from the 1st Emergency Order, though, largely do seem to have been renewed.
MG: You’re absolutely right—but I don’t think it’s selfish. We have worked hard to give judges and clerks the most up to date information. It is a bit disheartening when the latest information becomes obsolete so quickly. When we taught that class we were caught in between the executive order and the emergency order. We talked to them a day or two after GA-34 and a day before the 36th Emergency Order. Although our class has changed just about every time we’ve taught it so far—I imagine that will continue, and we’ll have a chance to teach it again at least 7 more times! Within the 36th order there is certainly some information that we could classify as “more of the same.” For instance, judges have had the ability to modify or suspend deadlines or procedures for some time, and now that authority has been extended until June 1st, 2021. Also, judges can still require or permit anyone to participate remotely without consent and courts are encouraged to use reasonable efforts to conduct proceedings remotely. On the flip side from requiring remote participation, a significant change is that a judge must permit remote participation by any participant other than a juror upon request and good cause. And good cause is not defined for us, so that will be up to judicial interpretation and discussion. In addition to that, is there anything that stuck out to you as a departure from earlier guidance—some new or different information?
RC: As you know, we talk quite a bit in the keynote that we present at the regional seminars (What Every Judge and Clerk Should Know About the Emergency Orders) about both of the provisions that you highlighted. What struck me in the OCA webinar, however, was a comment that David Slayton made regarding continued emergency orders. One participant mentioned how hard it was for courts to plan when new orders can potentially change the ground rules every 90 days. Anyone that has considered summonsing a jury right now or tried to nail down a jury setting as either remote or in-person will agree with that sentiment. David Slayton noted two things in response to this comment. First, that he felt the Governor’s State of Disaster, which authorizes the emergency orders in the first place, could continue for some time. Possibly years. This would mean that the Governor would have to continue renewing the State of Disaster every 30 days, as provided by statute. I thought this was a surprising possibility. The second thing he noted is that he felt future emergency orders would more likely become less restrictive as time went on, rather than the other way around. If your court is trying to plan dockets 30, 60, 90 days out, I suppose that could make things a little easier in theory.
MG: That’s true. Maybe we are seeing a long and gradual easing of requirements and restrictions.
RC: I want to add that I was excited to see that David Slayton addressed one of my questions. When these types of webinars get going, it is sometimes hard to get your question in. I know that both you and I got relegated to watching the webinar on the YouTube stream when attendance on Zoom was maxed out. Fortunately, I emailed my question beforehand! I asked about a provision that has been in the last couple of emergency orders, and remains in the 36th Emergency Order, that a court “has considered on the record any objection or motion related to proceeding” with an in-person jury trial. I have also seen this language, close to verbatim, in the recently filed S.B. 690, which would codify some type of remote proceedings in the law going forward. Did they forget about the non-record municipal courts and justice courts?
MG: The number of questions that David Slayton fielded and answered was significant. You raise a good point, most municipal courts are not courts of record, yet the guidance does specify to include any objection on the record. Presumably, when dealing with a trial de novo, the objection wouldn’t matter. Slayton recommended that it be noted in the case file, and I certainly think that’s a good practice.
RC: I agree. With the flood of questions both emailed and in chat, I was grateful he got to that one. Of course, I didn’t ask the question in the flippant way above! The point was, what can non-record courts do to comply with this requirement when there is no transcript of proceedings. This is certainly something a large segment of our courts will have to consider, especially if it becomes law down the line. David Slayton’s suggestion was well taken. We talk to courts all the time about “what’s in your case file” and the importance of documenting what happens in a case. This is important even when your court doesn’t have a court reporter.
MG: I encourage all municipal court personnel to read through 36th Order and watch OCA’s webinar, if possible. I don’t think it is linked to the txcourts.gov website yet. Thanks for talking through this with me, Robby.
Mark Goodner, TMCEC General Counsel and Director of Education, sat down with Regan Metteauer, TMCEC Deputy Director, and Patty Thamez, TMCEC Information Technology & Operations Specialist, to discuss TMCEC’s new website design.
MG: March 1, 2021 marked the unveiling of TMCEC’s new website. I love the new look and organization of it, and I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from our constituents. I know both of you spent a lot of time and energy making this happen, Regan and Patty. Can you tell us about the process? What were the primary goals for the redesign?
RM: The primary goal was efficiency. We wanted users to be able to find what they are looking for in as few clicks as possible. Less truly is more. The old website had useful information mixed with dated, less useful information. After all, TMCEC’s website has served as a repository for resources for a long time. So much of the process was filtering the most useful information and organizing it in a user-friendly way. Don’t worry. Nothing was lost. Some information just found a new home.
Part of the process resembled shopping at a home improvement store. Choosing colors reminded me of examining paint color swatches. For any font-aficionados, much time was spent selecting EB Garamond and Roboto.
PT: The process was complex on many levels. As a team we wanted something fresh, easy to use, and still informative. We have a lot of useful information on our website that many rely on daily. One of the primary goals was to help our constituents find that information efficiently.
MG: It looks so great, and I’ve noticed a very streamlined look and feel to it. Are there any new features of the site that you’d like to highlight?
PT: What to highlight—the entire site is fresh and new!! The announcement section allows you to see the latest news at TMCEC quickly. You can browse and expand an area of interest. We also added an index feature to The Recorder; you can now search for articles by topic, month, or year.
RM: New features include large buttons with icons for key website pages, tabs for each constituent type (Judge, Clerk/Court Administrator, Prosecutor, Juvenile Case Manager, and Court Security Officer), TMCEC’s new logo, and more images including a new slideshow. We also reduced the amount of content on the homepage so that important information doesn’t get lost. Users should be able to quickly see where they want to go and how to get there.
MG: I know our website had (and still has) an incredible amount of content. What was the biggest challenge in this monumental undertaking?
RM: It was like cleaning out your garage. You find things that spark fond memories, things you never knew were there, things you don’t want to let go of, and things you wish you never had. The biggest challenge was the volume itself and making hard decisions on what to keep and the best place for it. However, we had a great team who worked diligently. Like cleaning the garage, it will be an ongoing endeavor. As I said before, nothing was truly thrown away. Some documents just went into the archives.
PT: Organization and simplification of the old website was a big undertaking. The final product reflects the dedication to that goal. I am grateful to all who had a hand in the process. Special thanks to my co-workers at TMCEC and the team at Pallasart.
MG: Thank you both for telling us about the new website’s features as well as the process involved in redesigning it.
TMCEC’s website is still accessed at the same address: www.tmcec.com. Please check it out!
Governor Abbott issued Executive Order No. GA-34 yesterday (March 2, 2021) relating to the COVID-19 disaster. For many court personnel, the new order raised questions about the effect, if any, on court operations. Thankfully, the Office of Court Administration quickly sent out COVID Update #20. If you did not receive it, I have pasted the update below in its entirety.
If you haven’t yet seen GA-34, here’s a quick summary. Effective March 10, 2021, Abbott ordered that, in all Texas counties without high hospitalizations, there are no COVID-19 operating limits for any business or other establishment, although face coverings are still strongly encouraged when it is not feasible to maintain social distancing of six feet from a person not in the same household. No jurisdiction, however, may require a person to wear or mandate face coverings.
In areas that have seven consecutive days in which the number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients exceeds 15% of total hospital capacity, a county judge may use certain mitigation strategies. The strategies include operating limits at no less than 50% of total occupancy on businesses or other establishments, but no operating limits are allowed to be imposed for religious services, public and private schools and institutions of higher education, and child-care services.
Notably, no jurisdiction may impose a penalty of any kind for failure to wear a face covering or for failure to mandate the customers or employees wear face coverings. Trespassing laws, however, may be enforced and violators may be removed at the request of a business establishment or property owner.
Mark Goodner, TMCEC General Counsel and Director of Education, sat down with Ryan Turner, TMCEC Executive Director, to discuss the rest of the TMCEC’s Academic Year.
MG: Good afternoon, Ryan. Last week, you announced to all of our constituent groups that there will be no in-person training from TMCEC through at least July 31, 2021. Why is this the best course of action right now?
RT: Our top priority remains the safety of participants, faculty, and staff. CDC recommendations continue to discourage mass gatherings. Attending events and gatherings increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. While Texas is seeing progress in its efforts to decrease the spread of COVID-19, vaccine distribution is bottlenecked, and probably will be until sometime this summer.
Current COVID-19-related limitations on in-person venues mean fewer people would have been able to attend. Furthermore, attendance would be limited to people who reside in the region. Many TMCEC events are intended to be statewide events. Under current circumstances, TMCEC can accommodate more people and accommodate them safely online.
MG: One of the things that guided our planning for this academic year was to plan Regional Seminar agendas that could work both online virtually as well as in-person. For instance, we chose not to have breakouts because not only is teaching virtually a new challenge for our faculty, but at the onset of this year, we knew that even if the opportunity arose for us to return in-person, it would likely be a very different experience. Fewer participants. More distance. Changes to meal service. And, related to the agenda, less moving around from seat to seat in different tracks. We have heard from constituents that they may have been waiting for an in-person seminar to fulfill their judicial education or clerk certification hours. It is clear now that there will not be any in-person Regional Seminars this year. What would you say those constituents who might be wary of a virtual training experience?
RT: Being wary of virtual training is understandable. Initially, most faculty and staff were also wary. However, after nearly a year of focusing exclusively on virtual training, two things are clear. First, TMCEC virtual events contain the same spirit our constituents have come to expect from attending in-person events. Second, seminar evaluations show that TMCEC virtual events either meet or exceed the expectations of constituents, including those who dislike the notion of virtual training.
While we are as eager as our constituents to resume in-person training, TMCEC is continuing to work hard to make the best of a challenging situation. Particularly considering the recent announcement, I hope no one will continue to wait for in-person training to resume.
MG: You mentioned in your announcement, that TMCEC has more ways than ever for court personnel to complete their training. With respect to Judicial Education, it’s important to remind judges that every judge must complete at least 16 hours of education each and every year (and new non-attorney judges must complete 32 hours in the first year). So, while our most traditional and common form of education (the in-person seminar) is missing from the options, in this year with the state of disaster and the related suspension of the Rules of Judicial Education, judges can fulfill their hours in ways that they typically cannot. For instance, a judge could complete all 16 hours via webinar this year (or until the state of disaster is lifted and 30 days thereafter), but in most years even seasoned judges must get at least 8 live and continuous hours. Is that what you mean by more ways than ever?
RT: Yes.Registration is now open for sixteen virtual events through the end of July. These events are mostly live broadcasts that allow constituents to complete their training over a period of a couple of days. Financial aid is available.
In addition to virtual seminars, TMCEC will also have 11 live webinar broadcasts. Webinars are a separate way to complete training hours. If a person does not want to attend a virtual seminar and complete their hours by attending one event, they have the option to earn those hours piecemeal. You can either watch a webinar live and participate with people around the state. Alternatively, you can watch webinars on demand, at your own pace. Each webinar is an hour long. Webinars are free.
MG: You are waiting to make the call regarding in-person training for our scheduled Legislative Updates in August, but what would you tell our constituents about next year? How is COVID-19 affecting the planning for the 2022 Academic Year?
RT: Like this academic year, we are actively planning for a return to in-person training. We are presently in the process of requesting proposals from hotels and venues across the state. We hope to have resumed in-person training by the time of the first regional seminar in October. However, we will continue to work to bring certainty in uncertain times. If we cannot have an event in-person, we will do our best to honor those dates and accommodate our constituents online.
MG: Thanks for chatting with me today!
RT: Thank you, Mark.
To read about all of the upcoming TMCEC programs, click on the Academic Schedule below:
Texas municipal court personnel have spent nearly a year in some form of modified operations since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold around the world. Courts planning to commence in-person proceedings must first submit an operating plan (and a plan for recertification) to the Regional Presiding Judge. Presiding judges of a municipal court must, as part of the operating plan creation, consult with the local public health authority.
Interacting with the local health authority is a new endeavor for many municipal courts, and many court personnel have wondered about who their local health authority is and what they do.
Here are three things you should know about local health authorities:
What (or Who) areHealth Authorities in Texas?
The Health and Safety Code defines a health authority as a physician appointed under the provisions of Chapter 121, to administer state and local laws relating to public health within an appointing body’s jurisdiction. A health authority must be a competent physician with a reputable professional standing who is legally qualified to practice medicine in Texas and must be a resident.
Appointment of Health Authorities in Texas
Health Authorities are appointed for a two-year term of office and are considered an officer of the state when performing duties to implement and enforce laws that protect the public’s health. Health authorities can be appointed by commissioners courts, governing bodies of municipalities, local health department directors who are not physicians, or public health district directors who are not physicians. A newly appointed health authority must immediately file copies of three forms with the Regional Medical Director of their DSHS Health Service Region: Statement of Appointed/Elected Officer (often called the anti-bribery oath); Oath of Office; and Certificate of Appointment.
How Do I Find Who My Local Health Authority Is?
Hopefully, this can be answered quickly by checking with your city manager, city secretary, or city council. If you have a local health department, it should have the information, as well. Finally, you can always check with your DSHS Health Service Region Office, where appointment forms should be on file.
As Texas struggles to safely emerge from an historic winter storm, we know many of you are dealing with significant challenges. On Wednesday, February 17, 2021, David Slayton, Administrative Director of the Courts with the Office of Court Administration sent the following update. We are posting here in case you did not receive it. Stay safe and stay warm.
In March 2020, Governor Greg Abbott announced via two press releases that, due to the pandemic, certain rules related to expired driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations were suspended. Detailed information about these waivers can be viewed on TMCEC’s COVID-19 Update page, located at http://www.tmcec.com/calendar/covid-19-novel-coronavirus-update/. In both press releases, Governor Abbott gave the applicable agencies discretion on how long the waivers would last.
Now that the end is in sight, both agencies urge drivers to renew any expired driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. The DMV announcement asks drivers to renew “by” April 14, 2021, which indicates that the waiver is still in effect on April 14 and expired registration citations may resume starting on April 15, 2021. As for DPS and driver’s licenses, in addition to the announcement, a letter dated December 15, 2020 became available at https://www.dps.texas.gov/DriverLicense/documents/extndExpDateDL.pdf. This letter indicates that the waiver period includes April 14. Thus, despite language from both agencies that the waivers end on April 14, it appears that they actually end at precisely 12:00 a.m. on April 15.
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!