Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is seeking legislative support for a plan that would reopen 31 closed rural driver’s license offices. The plan would involve a “bridge loan” from the governor’s emergency fund to pay for staffing closed license offices, officials say. In return, Bentley wants rural and black lawmakers to support permanent funding when the Legislature convenes next year. Government sources say Bentley has not committed finally to the plan yet, but has floated the idea to seek lawmakers’ response. Bentley’s office said last week he would seek solutions to keep the offices open and, on Friday, the rural legislative caucus headed by state Rep. David Standridge (R-Hayden) asked caucus members for feedback on a bridge loan idea from Bentley. The governor’s office had no immediate comment Tuesday morning.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) closed 31 rural driver’s license offices including 11 in the Black Belt this month after the Legislature cut ALEA’s funding in September. ALEA said the offices closed accounted for less than 5 percent of the agency’s annual driver’s license transactions.
The closings quickly came under fire because driver’s licenses are the most common form of identification that meets requirements of Alabama’s photo voter ID law. Critics including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham) and the Rev. Jesse Jackson said the closings appeared designed to suppress black voting.
Rural lawmakers across the state – not just in the Black Belt – are concerned about the closings, Standridge said Monday. But he said, “While the Rural Caucus appreciates the governor working on options, we will not commit to sight unseen tax increases. We are willing to work for a reasonable solution.”