This struck me as odd for several reasons. First, I didn’t recall debating a fee increase during last year’s legislative session so, how did this happen. Second, fee increases such as this normally are requested by a Department but then must go before a Legislative Council that includes a 90 day window for comments from those affected by the fee.
After a few phone calls and researching legislative code, it was determined that the department used a code section (Section 32-6-6, copied below – applicable text underlined) to unilaterally raise the fees without legislative oversight. This code section was last amended in 2009 (Act # 2009-762, Senator Bedford).
I’ve also copied below a response from the department further explaining their rational for the increase.
The Way Ahead: I plan to introduce a bill that will accomplish two things. First, amend the code section to require fee increases from this department to follow the existing Legislative Council process – in other words, close this loop-hole so that fee increases are discussed openly. Second, I will push for this change to be retroactive so that the recent fee increase will go through the oversight process.
The 2015 Legislative Session starts on March 3rd. I will continue to keep you posted about this and other legislative items in the weeks ahead via this blog.
Semper Fi - Bill
Contents of licenses; photo specifications; fee for photo license or card
Each driver's license issued by the Department of Public Safety, except temporary permits or other special circumstances as determined by the Director of the Department of Public Safety, shall bear thereon a distinguishing number assigned to the licensee and a color photograph of the licensee, the name, birthdate, address, and a description of the licensee, who, for the purpose of identification and as a condition precedent to the validity of the license, immediately upon receipt thereof, shall endorse his or her usual or regular signature upon the license in the space provided thereon, unless a facsimile of the licensee's signature appears thereon.
A photo driver's license and photo nondriver identification card as provided in Section 32-6-4 shall have a photo core that meets the minimum width and length dimensions specified in ANSI standards X4.13-1971 and ANSI standard CR80, plus or minus 1/4 inch. In addition to all current and existing fees, the department may charge an additional fee to recover the cost of producing and issuing photo drivers' licenses and photo nondriver identification cards. The fee may not exceed ten cents ($.10) over the actual cost of producing and issuing the license or card including the cost of materials, labor costs, telecommunications costs, computer costs, postage, and any other costs incurred in producing and issuing a license or card. Revenues collected under this section shall be used by the department for the sole purpose of this program and any excess shall revert to the General Fund at the end of each fiscal year.
(Acts 1975, No. 539, §1; Acts 1984, No. 84-305, p. 678; Act 2009-762, p. 2308, §1.)
Statement from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency
Over the past several months, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has examined the core responsibilities and functions of each legacy agency to determine where there are opportunities to consolidate services. By working together as one agency, we will operate more efficiently from a law enforcement perspective and be able to provide the citizens of Alabama a more effective agency.
One of the areas that desperately needs improvement is driver license. The business model for driver license simply wasn't working - the system is inefficient and archaic.
Using advancements in technology, our goal is to help alleviate or reduce wait time. A pilot program utilizing grant funding that would enable citizens to renew their Alabama driver license at a kiosk was tested and determined to be successful with the issuance of more than 2,500 driver licenses. In December of 2014, we deployed kiosks in Mobile, Dothan, Montgomery, Opelika, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Decatur, and Huntsville. In addition to renewal kiosks, a scheduling system was developed and tested in Dothan. The scheduling system has been also been deployed to the major markets for further testing. Additionally, within the first quarter of 2015, we will offer citizens the ability to renew their driver license online.
In recent years, many Driver License Offices have experienced staffing shortages due to budget shortfalls. Currently, the Driver License Unit has more than 70 vacant positions statewide and with hiring freezes in place, this has resulted in longer lines, wait times, and in many offices, a reduction in hours of operation.
In researching solutions to fix the business model for driver license, we discovered that the State of Alabama is losing a significant amount of money each time a driver license is issued. The cost for the State to produce and issue an Alabama driver license far exceeds the cost the citizen is charged to obtain a driver license. To help recoup a portion of the loss to produce and issue a driver license, beginning February 9, 2015, we will modify the charge. Alabama law grants our agency the ability to modify the fee according to the production costs.
The Secretary's goal is to improve the business model and provide a better service. Additionally, the level of professionalism will greatly increase and wait times will greatly improve. The state DL cost will now average approximately $9 a year. A standard Class D operator license, which is renewable every four years, will be $36.25.
It also is important to note the change will not affect testing fees or issuance fees for non-driver identification cards for senior citizens or individuals with physical and/or mental disabilities.
We ask the public to be patient and judge us by our efficiencies that we implement.
### End of Statement