Why not allow some DMV transactions to happen right at the local or City Clerk’s office?
That’s a question state Representative Daniel P. Reilly (R-Dist. 72 Portsmouth, Middletown, Newport) hopes to explore as the bill he introduced last week makes its way through the General Assembly, so far with bipartisan support. House Bill No. 5708, sponsored by Reilly, was also co-signed by Representatives James N. McLaughlin (D-Dist. 57, Central Falls, Cumberland), Michael J. Marcello (D-Dist. 41, Scituate, Cranston), Raymond A. Hull (D-Dist. 6, Providence), and John A. Savage (R-Dist. 65, East Providence).
If made into law, the measure would give cities and towns throughout Rhode Island the ability to issue and renew drivers’ licenses on behalf of the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Rhode Island residents have for years complained about the unreasonably long wait times and inconvenience experienced when doing business at the various branches of the DMV, Reilly said on Monday, noting how staff reductions and DMV branch closings in recent years have only put a greater strain on the remaining DMV offices and customers alike.
Reilly, a freshman legislator, said this latest DMV bill has become a priority for him.
“Under my proposal, obtaining a driver’s license would no longer require a missed day from work, but rather a simple stop at the local city or town hall," he said. "Currently, can perform this relatively simple task so I see no reason not to allow willing municipalities to do the same."
Since the in early February, Reilly has called on the state government to implement other temporary measures to continue providing DMV services on Aquidneck Island until a new location reopens. In spite of state officials' insistance that a new location is actively being sought to reopen by early summer, Reilly said he also remains somewhat skeptical about whether one will reopen at all.
"I might be a bit cynical, and I'd love to be proven wrong, but they've been saying for years that they'd love to see that location closed," he said.
House Bill No. 5708 would not require the set-up of a mini DMV branch in each of Rhode Island’s cities and towns, he emphasizes, but would give each municipality the option to begin offering the driver's license services, similar to how some license and registrations services are already available to members of the AAA Auto Club locations throughout Rhode Island.
“I have a AAA membership and I love it and I think it’s great that they continue to do that,” Reilly said. “But that’s a membership I already pay for, and as taxpayers we shouldn’t have to pay a separate fee in order to sidestep the DMV line, if we can do it in some other way that’s convenient to everyone.”
If drivers licenses are successfully managed at town and city clerks' offices, he envisions expanding the program to other DMV services, although he cautioned that some transactions, such as special licenses, would likely have to remain under the domain of the current DMV offices.
In the hearings and testimony that will follow in coming weeks on th bill, legislators will hear from DMV officials and town clerks, and will likely look at the examples set by other states. Reilly himself has already begun looking at how some other states now offer DMV transactions both online and through private business partnerships, where the businesses collect small surcharges from each DMV transaction.
Similarly, an incentive system could be put in place to either share some of those revenues with cities and towns or impose a small surcharge that each municipality could collect, Reilly said.
If the bill becomes law, Reilly said he’s not expecting all of Rhode Island’s 39 municipalities to sign on, but is hopeful that some towns will see it as an opportunity.
“Some of the busier cities and towns might say, ‘we just don’t have the manpower to support this,’ but other towns, where it’s harder for the residents to get to the DMVs that are further away, as is the case on Aquidneck Island right now, those towns might find they already have the staff and they might welcome any revenue that's shared,” Reilly said. “The important thing is that it’s enabling legislation, in that it doesn’t require anyone to do this, but if they wanted to do it, they could tie into the DMV system, with minimal upfront costs for a little bit of equipment that would be immediately recouped by the fees or revenues collected.”
Reilly’s bill has been referred to the House Committee on Municipal Government for a hearing and consideration.
The full text of this legislation is available to view or print in the PDF file above.