AUSTIN, TX-- The 87 Driver License offices under review by the Sunset Commission will stay open after a unanimous vote Wednesday night.
The Commission, which is made up of five senators, five state representatives and two members of the public, voted 11-0 against the Department of Public Safety recommendation to close those offices. Ronald Steinhart, a member of the commission, was present at the meeting but chose not to vote.
Four of those 87 offices were in the Concho Valley:
Escaping the axe in the Concho Valley were:
- Ballinger (Runnels Co.)
- Brady (McCulloch Co.)
- Sonora (Sutton Co.)
Most of the 87 offices serve as the lone office in rural counties and low-income communities. If they had closed down, the citizens would likely spend more money and time to get their license.
“If we are going to require the public to do something, the onus is on us to make sure that we provide the most efficient system for them, the public, in having to comply with our requirements,” said state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood.
The DPS proposed the closures after a report in April said the agency hadn’t been efficient. The inefficiencies in the DPS offices were listed as “long wait times and understaffed offices.”
However, opposition of the proposal was numerous. They were advocating alternatives to the closures.
“This decision has the potential to negatively impact low-income, elderly, voters of color, and other Texans who use these offices to obtain identification to vote in Texas under the state’s photo identification (photo ID) law and to register to vote, which is required by the National Voter Registration Act,” said the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Legal Defense Fund in a joint statement.
On July 17, eight senators and 16 state representatives signed and sent a bipartisan letter condemning the report.
“As a state we made a commitment to provide services to all citizens, even those in the most rural areas,” the letter stated. “Texas has an opportunity to reaffirm that no one citizen is more valued than another and we should not make one citizen whole at the expense of another one.”
Instead, an alternative option was presented by the commission.
A third-party study of DPS and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles to figure out which agency should issue driver’s licenses was recommended by state Sens. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and Kirk Watson, D-Austin
“Regardless of which agency runs this program, the unanimous vote of the commission against closing the offices DPS identified sends a strong message that no offices should be closed if it will unfairly impact rural Texans,” Watson's office said in a statement emailed to the Tribune. “But the study may find, for example, that it's possible to expand our presence in rural Texas by utilizing local government offices.”
If the study is not approved by Legislature, the measure means the DMV will take over issuing driver’s licenses by 2021.