Passed by the Legislature with only a handful of "no" votes earlier this year, House Bill 1078 promised a free driver's license or license to carry a handgun for most Texans who are CPR certified.
It was not to be, however.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has declined to implement the fee waiver, citing language in the law that requires it to provide free licenses only if the Legislature appropriated money to cover the costs.
Because no money was set aside, "the department believes it would be imprudent to divert critical funding" from other needs, the DPS informed the bill's author, state Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, by letter last month.
Oliverson, an anesthesiologist, said the decision represents a missed opportunity to encourage more Texans to learn a life-saving skill.
"I am deeply disappointed," he told the American-Statesman. "The lives that could have been saved will now be lost."
Oliverson also said he will work to enact a similar law when the Legislature next meets in 2021.
The DPS has not publicly acknowledged its decision to decline the fee waiver created by HB 1078, which was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 14.
Nor did DPS officials respond to several requests for information about the fate of the fee waiver before and after it was intended to take effect on Sept. 1.
Finally, a request from the Statesman under the Texas Public Information Act resulted in the release of two documents — a Sept. 16 letter to Oliverson explaining the agency's decision and an internal notice informing DPS employees that the fee waiver will not be implemented.
"This information may be shared with customers requesting the waiver," the internal notice said.
The Statesman also requested copies of internal documents leading to the decision on fees. The DPS is seeking permission from the Texas attorney general's office to withhold the documents, arguing that internal deliberations reflecting advice or opinions are exempt from the Public Information Act.
Under HB 1078, there would be no charge for a new or renewed driver's license or handgun carry license for those with a current certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation from the American Heart Association, American Red Cross or "another nationally recognized association." A driver’s license costs $25 for most Texans, while a handgun license to carry is generally $40.
The free licenses, however, would not be available to those who need a CPR certification for their job or professional license.
According to the letter to Oliverson from Kevin Cooper, the DPS government relations chief, the full cost of HB 1078 was impossible to nail down because the Red Cross and American Heart Association did not know how many Texans hold a CPR certification.
It seemed safe to assume, however, that the DPS would be on the hook for a substantial amount of money, Cooper wrote.
"The department can only assume that many Texans hold such certification currently and many would acquire certification in order to take advantage of this fee termination," he wrote.
Cooper pointed to the Texas Mobility Fund, which helps finance highway expansion statewide. A portion of driver's license fees are sent to the mobility fund — providing about 29 percent of the fund's revenue last year — and the DPS would have had to continue paying the mobility fund portion of the no-cost licenses, Cooper wrote.
The agency also questioned the wisdom of diverting "critical funding from its top priority of increasing capacity at driver license offices and increasing license issuance efficiency," he added.
Oliverson said his office has begun working on a "more precise estimate of the potential cost" in preparation for the 2021 session.
"We absolutely will make sure this is fully implemented by September 2021, if not sooner," he said.