Two weeks after announcing it would potentially close 16 Division of Motor Vehicles centers, the state reversed course Thursday and said it will maintain all of its licensing centers and will open four new locations. The Legislature required the DMV this year to develop the most cost-effective program possible to implement a new law requiring people to show photo ID to vote and to ensure that voters will be able to obtain the state-issued photo IDs. The IDs will be required for voting starting in the spring.
Under an original proposal released July 22, the division said it may close 16 locations and open nine new ones, for a net loss of seven centers. The plan called for expanding hours at others. DMV Operations Manager Patrick Fernan said pressure from state lawmakers and citizens to keep the DMV accessible led to the decision not to close any branches. “It became clear that there was a strong desire to maintain service in all current locations,” Fernan said.
The Legislature also required each county to have a DMV that is open at least 20 hours a week, meaning 40 counties had to expand their hours. The additional hours will create 55 new positions across the state and will bring the total number of DMV centers statewide to 92.
Fernan said it is too early to determine how much it will cost to open and maintain the four new centers, but the Legislature budgeted $6 million for the expanded hours in the centers’ first year and $4 million for the second year.
All of the expanded hours will be during the week, said Fernan, meaning Wisconsin will still have only one DMV location that is open during the weekend, on Madison’s west side. By comparison, Indiana has 124 DMV centers that are open during the weekend.
The new DMV locations will be in Viroqua (Vernon County), Alma (Buffalo County), south Eau Claire/Fall Creek (Eau Claire County) and Keshena (Menominee County).
Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Fort Atkinson) was a vocal opponent of the original proposal to close 16 DMV locations, including one in his district, and applauded the move to keep all the existing locations open.
“I didn’t know what to expect . . . I pushed hard for this in the past two weeks tirelessly, and they finally listened,” Jorgensen said. “It certainly is a switch-around.”
Had the original plan gone through, Jorgensen said Fort Atkinson residents would have had to make a half-hour drive to the remaining center in Watertown and that no public transportation exists between the two communities.
The 16 centers that were originally set to close were mostly in rural areas, but included one in Oconomowoc. The nine centers that were proposed to open were largely in other rural counties.
Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, said he thought the DMV’s original plan was acceptable but praised the agency for coming up with a way to expand hours without closing any facilities.
“I think it’s important as we roll out photo ID to make sure that, as much as possible, we have access to photo IDs,” Vos said.
Still, opponents of the voter ID law say the measure still is not enough to keep the polls accessible to all voters.
“This is a move in the right direction, but there is still a lot to do,” said Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Women Voters. “This is an extra cost that was not in what was considered the estimated cost of the bill.”
The original bill estimated the new voter ID system would cost the state $7 million over the next two years. The expanded hours and new DMV centers, passed separately under the state budget, would cost an additional $10 million over two years.
Full Article: State puts brakes on plan to close DMV sites – JSOnline.