By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, April 22, the Alabama House of Representatives Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee voted to block passage of Senate Bill 44 (SB44) sponsored by Sen. Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison) which would have repealed a controversial driver’s license fee.
In January, motorists and legislators alike were shocked when the cost of renewing their Alabama driver’s licenses were increased substantially. The move was never authorized by the state legislature. The increase was declared by executive fiat because a past legislature gave power to raise the fees to the Alabama Department of Public Safety (that function is now a part of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA)). Senator Holtzclaw introduced SB44 to roll back the fee increase and require that all future such executive actions are reviewed by the legislature. SB44 sailed through the Senate but ran into determined opposition in committee in the Alabama House of Representatives.
Senator Holtzclaw wrote on his blog, “SB44, legislation I’ve worked that would reset the 54 percent Driver’s License fee increase unilaterally imposed by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) back in February was debated in the House Public Safety and Homeland Defense Committee today. After a somewhat spirited debate the bill was killed in a 9-1 vote. Only the Committee Chairman, Representative Wood (R) voted in favor of the legislation. Early on I knew this bill would have issues moving through the House of Representatives as whispers in the halls of the State House made it clear that even after passing the Senate in a 29 – 1 vote last month, the bill would be “slow rolled” in the House. And it was, the bill passed the Senate on 31 March but didn’t move in the House for a full three weeks…sadly, politics as usual.”
ALEA Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier lobbied hard to defeat SB44 and said that the vote in committee was a vote to support and protect the citizens of Alabama.
Secretary Collier said in a statement, “I want to personally thank members of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee and the House leadership for standing up for our State Troopers and Investigators by defeating SB44. Diverting funds budgeted to hire State Troopers in order to pay for the cost of producing and issuing a Driver License was an unacceptable business practice. At average cost of $9 per year, and still less than a fishing or hunting license, the state simply breaks even when an Alabama Driver License is issued.”
Sen. Holtzclaw said, “In the end ALEA successfully positioned this bill with House members as something it was not – a current year budget cut. I maintain that a fee increase imposed in February should have no impact on current Fiscal Year (FY) budgeting; we are in the 7th month of the 2015 budget. The FY 2016 budget is only now being debated. As I’ve stated before, this legislation was about ensuring the voice of the people was heard in the process. A fee increase of some degree is likely warranted but the debate should be done in the open were the people’s voice is represented. Committee members Representatives Thomas Jackson (D), Dickie Drake (R), Chris England (D), Tommy Hanes (R), Mary Moore (D), Connie Rowe (R), Harry Shriver (R), Allen Treadaway (R) and Issac Whorton (R) vote no – that is 6 Republicans and 3 Democrats that willfully voted to silence the people’s voice today.”
According to information provided by ALEA, the cost of producing and issuing an Alabama Driver License is $42.74. According to ALEA the old driver’s license fee of $23.50, meant that the agency had to divert $19.24 of funds that could be used to hire State Troopers, Special Agents or other vital law enforcement support services for every driver’s license issued. Section 32-6-6 of the Code of Alabama permits the agency to recover the cost of producing and issuing the Driver License or Identification Card.
Sen. Holtzclaw said, “I maintain it is a travesty that the voice of the people is now silent on a $12.7M fee increase. By their vote these committee members just “green lighted” fee increases by any department or agency in state government. What should keep you up tonight? Now that these House members have turned the “green light” on, what other czar like unilateral fee increase is coming and who in the legislature is willing to stand in the gap and ensure a representative of the people is heard in the process? Obviously for some members it is easier to tell folks back home that they didn’t raise the fee, it was done by the department through existing legislation. That’s the easy route. I don’t do easy, I do what’s right.”
ALEA maintains that the current cost of $36.25 does not give extra money to the agency, it allows the agency to simply breakeven when a Driver License or Identification Card is issued.
Sen. Holtzclaw vowed, “I will continue to fight the good fight in Montgomery – fighting for a government of the people, by the people, for the people; ensuring the people’s voice is heard. I hope I can count on others to stand in the gap with me.”
ALEA stated that implementing of new technology-based initiatives allowed them to save money, so the cost was not raised the entire amount allowed of $19.24 but $12.75. ALEA wrote that te passage of SB44 would have had a devastating effect on the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and force the agency to divert funds intended to hire State Troopers and Special Agents.