Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Safety Dept. Commissioner Denounces Long TN Driver’s License Lines

Shelby County is home to the worst performing driver’s license station in the state, according to the agency in charge of license renewals.

But state officials want to change that, by rolling out self-serve iPad stations, outfitting stations with more equipment, and improving the training for workers at the 51 driver’s service centers across the state. They’re also trying to make it easier for residents to never enter those centers, by completing simple transactions over the Internet and visiting in-person only for more complex issues.

Meanwhile, drivers coming to the station on East Shelby Drive in Shelby County can count on being in line 86 minutes on average, the longest wait time in the state, according to the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.

“Obviously, that is unacceptable,” Commissioner Bill Gibbons said during a state budget hearing Nov. 6. (View the agency’s budget summary here.)

The state’s goal is to have all its centers performing with wait times of 20 minutes or less and visit times – including the time it takes to actually complete the transaction – of 35 minutes or less. Gibbons said 20 of its centers had met the wait time goal and 25 had met the visit time standard.

The state is in the process of upgrading its 30-year-old driver’s license computer system, though it won’t be in place for at least three years, Gibbons said. And it’s also taking steps like bringing in managers from outside the agency and rolling out more equipment to each station.

“Every driver service center has one copier and one camera,” Gibbons said. “If either malfunctions that center essentially shuts down.”

The department is also experimenting with adding part-time employees to ease wait times during peak times of day.

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Ramsey Favors Adding Picture on Drivers’ Licenses for Seniors

Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Thursday in Clarksville he may pursue legislation to require citizens over age 60 to have a photograph on their driver’s license — a big wrinkle in the debate over the state’s new voter ID law.

Ramsey, on the first leg of his “Red Tape Road Trips” tour designed to hear concerns about government regulations, said he doesn’t understand any justification for allowing those citizens to go without a photo on their driver’s license. He wants to study the history of how that came to be.

While his meeting at a Clarksville real estate office Thursday addressed regulations, some unrelated questions arose, and one was about the state’s new law that requires voters to have a photo ID when they show up to vote.

The law goes into effect Jan. 1 and would first come into play in the state’s presidential primary March 6.

The question came from a man who recently moved to Tennessee from Iowa who was unaware the state had a new voter ID law. In telling the new Tennessean about the law, Ramsey said he didn’t know until recently about the exemption for people 60 and over allowing them not to have a photo on their driver’s license.

There are 126,000 seniors in Tennessee who are over age 60 without photos on their driver’s licenses.

“I don’t see a policy reason for not doing that (having photos on licenses),” Ramsey said after the meeting. “I think that would solve the problem with voter ID. So, yes, we are looking back on that, at least to see what the policy was that did it and if there is reason not to do it.

“Maybe there is some logical reason why if you’re over age 60 you don’t have to have your picture on your driver’s license, but for the life of me I can’t figure it out.”

Ramsey said he assumes it would take legislation to change the policy.

“We’re looking into the history behind that and why it happened and why there’s over 100,000 citizens that don’t have it,” he said.

“When we began doing the research, I think there was an amendment to the bill that exempted them. So there would have to be an amendment to the statute to put them back in, too. I don’t know many senior citizens that would object to that, not the ones I know.”

Ramsey said he was surprised to learn about the exemption. It was unclear exactly when Ramsey was saying the exemption came to his attention, whether it was before or after the Legislature passed the photo ID bill.

“I don’t think that anybody really realized — I know I didn’t — that over age 60 you do not have to have your picture on a driver’s license. Now why shouldn’t you? Give me a policy reason why you shouldn’t. I can’t think of one,” he said.

Ramsey also told the audience of about 35 people that photo IDs can be obtained free under the new law, but he added “that’s another whole problem, standing in line at DMV.”

When he answered the question from the former Iowan, Ramsey said, “One thing I discovered through this whole process — we didn’t know this and have done some research on it lately — if you’re a senior citizen, you’re not required to have a picture on your photo ID. I didn’t even know that. So what was the policy, the reason we did that? We’ve kind of traced it back.

“Those of us who are lifelong Tennesseans remember when you didn’t used to have a photo on your driver’s license. I think in 1988, we figured out, when the law went into effect, when you first got the plastic card you carry in your back pocket that’s got your picture on it. For some reason, some amendment got attached to the bill that exempted senior citizens. What’s the policy reason for that? So that needs to be changed, too.”

Ramsey said he received “several compliments” from people in the audience after the meeting about the new photo ID law.