Rep. Sarah Vance (R-Homer) in the Alaska Capitol on Feb. 11, 2021 in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Peter Segall/Juneau Empire)

Rep. Sarah Vance (R-Homer) in the Alaska Capitol on Feb. 11, 2021 in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Peter Segall/Juneau Empire)

Public pushback puts pause on DMV proposal

Lawmakers shutter plan to close six rural DMVs

A proposal to close six Division of Motor Vehicles locations in rural Alaska was canceled after public outcry from citizen groups and lawmakers who say the closures would hurt seniors and rural communities.

The House Finance Committee Administration Subcommittee voted to deny the budget action request that would close DMVs in Haines, Tok, Valdez, Eagle River, Homer and Delta Junction. The closures were part of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget. The administration said private companies would be able to provide the same services at less cost to the state.

But those private companies can’t offer as many services as a state-run DMV, which would hurt older adults and others in affected communities, said Peter Zuyus, executive director of Seniors of Alaska. People 68 and older have to appear in person to renew their licenses, which Zuyus said would mean having to travel to Anchorage or Juneau for a license renewal.

The state-run DMV has set fees for services, but private companies would be allowed to charge additional fees for the provision of those services, Zuyus said. Those companies would have wide latitude to charge for services, he said, adding there are concerns about what the private company would do with customers’ private information.

“It’s not quite as simple as you’re not paying the state,” Zuyus said.

Lawmakers, including all of Juneau’s delegation — Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, and Reps. Andi Story, D-Juneau and Sara Hannan, D-Juneau — quickly expressed their opposition. Kiehl and Hannan’s respective districts each cover Haines, one of the affected communities.

[Looming benefit loss causes food security concerns]

Lawmakers across party lines took notice and submitted multiple bills aimed at addressing the situation. Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, submitted a bill that would repeal the in-person requirement for drivers over 68. Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, has a bill that would keep the offices open by law.

Private companies can’t provide commercial licenses, Hannan told the Empire, which is just one of many needed services that would become harder to obtain should the state-run DMV offices close. Those offices provide services for people to comply with required safety protocols, Hannan said, and removing the offices from the community doesn’t remove the need for compliance. The bipartisan opposition to the proposal showed how impactful the closures would be, she said.

“This is not a partisan issue, it’s not just ‘liberal Democrats.’ These are very conservative districts,” she said. “‘Cut the budget’ is a great soundbite, but what does that actually mean?”

In this case, it would mean requiring residents of certain communities to travel hundreds of miles for their DMV services. Private DMV services are fine, Hannan said, but only as a supplement to the basic services provided by the state.

The Department of Administration said in an email that private DMV offices operate under the same security the state DMV staff do and are subject to audit to ensure compliance.

In a phone interview Wednesday morning, Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, who chairs the administration subcommittee, said while the budget action item was denied, DOA still has the ability to find other ways to close those DMVs. However, Wool said DOA Commissioner Kelley Tshibaka told him in a previous meeting if the action item were denied, she would respect the wishes of the Legislature and keep the DMVs open.

“Hopefully she honors what we did,” Wool said. “Hopefully, this doesn’t continue, these offices are important in these communities.”

Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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