FORT WORTH — Two years into a state program meant to offer a carrot-and-stick approach to strengthening marriages, most couples appear to be settling for the stick.
The Twogether in Texas program launched in September 2008 to encourage couples to take an eight-hour premarital course before saying "I do." The state fee for licenses was doubled to $60, but it was waived for those who participated in such a course. Couples still have to pay a local license fee, which is $11 in Tarrant County.
But few couples are using the program for the discount, likely accounting for less than 15 percent of all licenses in the past two years, according to information provided by state agencies.
The Star-Telegram contacted state agencies involved with collecting marriage license revenue, including the Department of State Health Services and the comptroller's office. None were able to say exactly how many couples have received the discount statewide. The information they provided, as well as data from county officials, suggests the 15 percent figure.
"The teaching of the course is working fine, and I have no intention of modifying that," said Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, who championed the legislation that created the program. "We just have to figure out more ways to get more people to take the course [rather] than pay the double fee."
Chisum's proposal was vigorously debated in Austin during the 2007 legislative session. He originally wanted to raise the state fee from $30 to $100. Critics derided it as a "marriage tax." They also expressed concern that local governments might lose out on needed revenue if too many people took advantage of the discount.
In both Harris and Tarrant Counties, the percentage of couples receiving the discount increased in the second year of the program, but the levels remain low. In Tarrant County, about 9 percent of marrying couples received the discount between Oct 1, 2009, and Sept 31, 2010, up from 6.5 percent the prior year, according to data provided by Patrick Jordan, Tarrant County's vital records manager.
In Harris County, which includes Houston, the percentage of participating couples during the first two years has been below 5 percent, according to the county clerk's office.
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