Alabama's chief law enforcement officer said Monday he will close all but the state's four largest drivers' license offices next year if state lawmakers don't provide more funding than they are proposing.
Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier told a press conference in Scottsboro that budgets proposed in the Legislature's regular session are "unacceptable" and "unworkable." Lawmakers must do better in the upcoming second special session on the 2016 budget, he said.
Collier heads the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), which was created in 2013 to merge the Department of Public Safety and 11 smaller policing agencies. His press conference was to rally support for Gov. Robert Bentley's proposed tax package as a second special session nears on Alabama's 2016 General Fund budget. State parks officials have scheduled their own press conference Tuesday near Joe Wheeler State Park.
Collier said his agency received $55 million in state funding this year. Lawmakers have proposed $40 million for next year, and he wants level funding of $55 million.
Without it, 33 part-time rural drivers' license offices will close Oct. 1, Collier said. More closures Jan. 1, 2016 will leave 12 offices statewide, and that number will drop to four on March 1 – one each in Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery and Mobile.
That means an estimated 40,000 people a year will funnel to four offices for new drivers licenses and examinations, Alabama licenses for new residents moving from other states, and renewal of licenses after suspensions, department leaders said.
Regular license renewal can now be done on line. Collier said that is one of several improvements the state has made to the process, including online examination scheduling, self-serve kiosks, and digital licenses for cell phones. But first licenses and examinations must be done in person, and properly licensing drivers who will be on Alabama roads is a public safety issue, he said. Public safety, he said, is the state's No. 1 responsibility.
Ahh, but let's recall that this means Alabama citizens who want to get a drivers' license or state issue ID ahead of the 2016 election will only be able to go to four offices in the entire state to get one starting in March.
And of course, this is the plan. If you need a renewal, you can do it online. But if you're new to the state or getting a voter ID, good luck. These closings will end up disenfranchising tens of thousands of voters.