Michigan Senate approves another extension for driver’s licenses and registrations

Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 12:36 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Republicans are advancing a plan to extend expiring driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations again amid a backlog at Michigan Secretary of State branch offices.

The Michigan Senate approved a three-bill package on Thursday to extend the expiration date on licenses, state ID cards and vehicle registrations through the end of the state fiscal year on Sept. 30. The $200 fine for driving on a suspended license would be waived retroactive to April 1.

Michigan Secretary of State branch offices are operating by appointment only, but residents have complained about months-long waits to find an opening. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson asked lawmakers for $25 million to hire more staff and approve more overtime pay to open 500,000 appointments by Sept. 30.

However, the Republican-led Legislature responded with the proposed extension of expiration times instead. Republicans have been calling on Benson to scrap the appointment-only system and allow people to complete transactions as walk-in visitors.

“These bills will hold people harmless if they can’t get their renewals done on time because of Secretary Benson’s refusal to reopen offices for same-day services,” said Republican State Sen. Ruth Johnson of Holly. “By extending the expiration date for driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations, we can ensure Michigan drivers don’t getting punished with a $200 ticket or a late fee because they couldn’t get an appointment at the secretary of state in time.”

Most Secretary of State transactions can be completed online, by mail or at one of 140 self-service kiosks in grocery stores around the state. In-person visits to a branch office still are required for getting a new driver’s license or state ID card, when an updated photo or eye test is needed or for any cash transactions.

All branches offices were closed for a few months last year during the coronavirus pandemic. Benson created the appointment-only plan when they reopened and announced her decision in April to continue requiring appointments for all office visits.

Benson announced earlier this week that her staff is creating 350,000 more appointments at the 210 branch offices across the state by reducing the time necessary for certain transactions. Some 20-minute appointments have been reduced to 10 minutes, allowing offices to serve more people.

The busiest branch offices also are appointing greeters, who can talk with customers without an appointment to determine whether they can be served that day. If not, the greeter can set an appointment time for them to return and complete their transaction.

“While it was good to see the secretary of state finally listening to Michigan families, adding more appointment slots for branch offices, and prioritizing services for people with disabilities — it’s not enough,” said Johnson, who was secretary of state from 2011 to 2019. “The secretary of state created this issue and she needs to fix it. The decision to end same-day services and go to an appointment-only system does not work when people still can’t get an appointment for months in many areas.”

The Republican bills approved Thursday waive all late fees until Benson opens branch offices for eight hours per day with no appointments necessary.

The bills now head to the Michigan House for consideration. If approved there, they would go to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to decide whether to sign them into law.

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