By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Montgomery—An Alabama House Committee has been reviewing the process and procedure of obtaining a driver’s license in Alabama. The committee said in a statement that the agreement announced on Wednesday, December 28, 2016 between the State of Alabama and the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) underscores the important work undertaken by the House Interim Committee on Driver’s License Review. The committee is tasked with finding ways to reduce wait times and find methods for making driver’s license offices more accessible to all Alabamians. The committee has held meetings across the state since it was established by a House Resolution co-sponsored by 56 Republican members.
Committee Chairman Randall Shedd (R-Fairview) said, “Our focus is to find ways to increase customer service for Alabama taxpayers trying to get a driver license. It is unacceptable that individuals are having to take time off of work, stand in line for hours, and in some cases still not receive service. We are serious about solving this problem.”
The committee is also discussing changing requirements to allow probate judge offices to take on clerical activities such as adding veterans, vessels, and other routine classification changes to driver’s licenses instead of driver’s license offices. This adjustment would free up the time spent by license office employees on these minor adjustments and could also eliminate individuals having to wait all day for a routine change.
Two officers of the House Rural Caucus serve on the committee. Rep. David Standridge (R-Hayden) chairs the Rural Caucus and Shedd serves as Treasurer.
Rep. Standridge said, “The Rural Caucus recognized this as a problem from the beginning. People in rural Alabama should have access to State services without regard to their income level or where they live. As a member of this committee, I support Chairman Shedd in his efforts to make our driver’s license offices more accessible and efficient.”
The House Interim Committee on Driver’s License Review is scheduled to meet next on Wednesday January 4, 2017 at 10:30 a.m. in Room 410 of the Alabama Statehouse.
The committee is required to report its findings and submit suggestions to the House of Representatives no later than the tenth legislative day of the 2017 Regular Session, which begins on February 7, 2017.
State Representatives Louise Alexander (D-Bessemer), Dexter Grimsley (D-Newville), Phillip Pettus (R-Killen), and Margie Wilcox (R-Mobile) also serve on the Committee.
On Wednesday, December 28 US Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that USDOT has reached an agreement with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) to ensure that driver licensing services in the State will be available to all residents, regardless of race, color or national origin in compliance with Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Sec. Foxx said, “The US Department of Transportation took on this issue as part of our responsibility under Title VI to prevent discriminatory behavior, and I’m pleased to have reached this agreement with the State of Alabama. DMVs play a critical role in the day-to-day functioning of the American people, including ensuring their ability to drive to work and other essential services and to get proper identification needed to vote or open a bank account. No one should be prevented from accessing these services based on their race, color or national origin — Title VI is not optional.”
ALEA agreed to expand the hours of operation for district and field driver license offices throughout the Black Belt region; appoint a Title VI coordinator who will be responsible for the development and operation of ALEA’s Title VI program, as well as for the provision of Title VI training to ALEA’s staff; prepare and submit a Community Participation Plan within 90 days to achieve robust community participation throughout all stages of the planning and decision-making processes for ALEA’s programs and activities, in connection with licensing services to ensure that communities are informed about potential impacts; and submit any proposed modifications to field office hours or driver’s license services to USDOT for prior approval.
In 2015, Governor Robert Bentley’s administration cut hours or closed 34 rural driver’s license offices in an attempt to cut costs. Rural counties, many of them majority Black, were most impacted. As a result, many rural residents (many of them Black) are now 70 or 80 miles from a driver’s license office.
The driver’s license is the most common form of photo ID used to vote in Alabama. Democrats were already opposed to photo ID requirements to vote because, statistically, Blacks and Latinos are less likely to have a photo ID than White people are. The combination of a photo ID requirement for voting and the closure of the offices led to charges of voter suppression by the Bentley Administration. The state denied that, but the move ultimately led to the USDOT investigation as the state is a recipient of billions of dollars in federal highway funds and is prohibited by law from using those highway dollars to promote any form of racial or ethnic discrimination.