By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Friday, October 16, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) issued a statement announcing that ALEA’s closed rural driver’s license offices in rural counties would be reopened for driver’s license exams one day a month.
Gov. Bentley said in a statement, “After careful consideration of options regarding the closure of 31 Driver’s License offices in Alabama’s rural counties, I have asked that an Alabama Law Enforcement Agency examiner be provided one day a month to service those counties affected.”
Gov. Bentley said, “On Thursday, I met with Congresswoman Terri Sewell, who represents eight of the impacted counties, to inform her of my decision. I recognize the closure of the 31 driver’s license offices affects mostly rural areas of the state. To suggest the closure of the driver’s license offices is a racial issue is simply not true, and to suggest otherwise should be considered an effort to promote a political agenda.”
On Saturday leading Democratic Presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Hoover audience the closings were a, “A blast from the Jim Crow past.”
Gov. Bentley said, “Alabama has provided numerous options by which citizens can obtain a voter ID, and the closure of the Driver’s License offices should not be seen as a hindrance to someone’s ability to do that. The budget passed by the State Legislature required many executive branch departments to make difficult business decisions regarding how they will allocate their limited resources in Fiscal Year 2016. As the Governor of Alabama, I have the responsibility to run State government within the budget provided by the State legislature.”
Gov. Bentley had demanded that the legislature pass hundreds of millions of dollars in new taxes or he would close all of the driver’s license offices except the ones in Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, and Montgomery and up to 20 State parks. The state legislature reluctantly gave the Governor just $82 million in new taxes on cigarettes, nursing home beds and pharmacies. The Governor responded by closing the 31 driver’s license offices and five state parks. The legislature had included language in the budget forbidding that any parks or offices be closed. Gov. Bentley signed that budget; but then declared that provision to be illegal. The Alabama Supreme Court declined to give an opinion.
The State has received national negative attention for the closings of the driver’s license offices. The state requires that voters present a valid photo id at voting. ALEA claims the move was necessary to save money; but closing the one day a week offices saved only an estimated $100,000 (in a state that spends $19.7 billion a year). The Governor’s order means that the offices, which were open fifty days a year will now be open 12 days a year further diminishing the savings generated by the move in the first place.