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Friday, August 28, 2009

State Govt Restructuring Eliminates Drivers License Exam Stations

Candidate Munsterman, I smell another small-town campaign issue!

Not only does your driver's license cost 150% more now, but many of you will have to drive farther to get your license renewed. Folks up in Britton are seeing their local driver's license services end next month. Britton is losing theirs because, says the state, the Britton station issues less than 0.4% of licenses and IDs statewide. As of October 1, they'll have to drive 42 miles to Webster... assuming their licenses haven't expired. The exam station in Webster is open Fridays 08:00–16:30, so Marshall County drivers will have to take off work to get renewed.

According to the Marshall County Journal, the state appears to be cutting back to 56 licensing stations. That closes 16 of the currently listed 72 stations. I'm looking around for a complete list of the closures, but I hear Howard, Salem, and Flandreau may all lose their already infrequent visits from the driver's license examiner. I'm also trying to find whether this is coming from the Legislature (you know, the folks who vote for increased fees for less service) or if this is simply an in-agency decision to streamline budgets. More tips are welcome!

Update 15:05 CDT: Make that 17 towns losing service. State driver's licensing director Cindy Gerber says this move reduces the number of offices from 74 to 57 (I guess I can't count). The Aberdeen American News has the list:
  1. Beresford
  2. Britton
  3. Canton
  4. Clark
  5. Clear Lake
  6. De Smet
  7. Deadwood
  8. Flandreau
  9. Freeman
  10. Howard
  11. Mission
  12. Parkston
  13. Philip
  14. Platte
  15. Salem
  16. Tyndall
  17. Wagner
And cut the legislature some slack: yes, they increased our fees, but according to Rep. Sue Wismer (D-Britton), no one informed legislators that this fee hike would be followed by a reduction of services. Rep. Wismer and likely a number of her fellow non-metro legislators are not pleased:

"I find it kind of sad commentary on how unimportant (the state feels) it is to involve the Legislature in decisions that affect rural populations," she said. "It's this kind of action that breeds mistrust and long-lasting ill will between legislators and Pierre."

Some poor and elderly people in the Britton area seldom leave town, and now will be forced to drive at least 45 miles to renew their licenses, she said.

"It appears (the state is) taking the process of county consolidation into their own hands," Wismer said, referencing an idea that has been occasionally discussed in Pierre [Scott Waltman, "Driver's Exam Stations Closing in Britton, Other Communities," Aberdeen American News, 2009.08.28].

I can understand Rep. Wismer's frustration. She and her legislative colleagues (like our own Senator Russell Olson) now have to explain to voters why they are paying more and getting less. Besides, some legislators floated a county consolidation resolution this year; it failed to survive its first committee vote. The executive branch seems to be sneaking ahead where the Legislature has said 'Don't go there."

Update 15:30 CDT: Bob Mercer notes that the Rounds Administration gave no one any indication this move was coming. I smell rotten sneakers here....

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