Nicole Bexten

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Driver’s License Access May Expand

by Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – State Sen. Russell Jolly, D-Houston, represents a sprawling district that includes all of Chickasaw, and portions of Grenada, Calhoun and southwest Lee counties.

With the exception of the people who live in the Lee County portion of his district, all of Jolly’s constituents must cross county lines to visit a Department of Public Safety office to have their driver’s license renewed or to get their initial license.

That is why Jolly filed legislation to require the Department of Public Safety to have a driver’s license station in each county at least once a month.

“This is the most complaints I have, that there are elderly people having to go to Tupelo and drive over 100 miles round-trip to get their license or people who work in factories are having to take a day off to get their license,” he said.

Jolly’s bill, which passed the Senate earlier this session with only two dissenting votes, requires the Department of Public Safety, at the request of each county’s board of supervisors, to place license examiners in the county seat at least one day each month “to conduct license examinations, road tests and renewals.”

The supervisors are required to provide space for DPS personnel if it is requested.

A bill in the House that increases the fee to have a suspended license re-instated was amended on the floor by diverse members, including Reps. Preston Sullivan, D-Okolona; Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie; and Donnie Bell, R-Fulton, to do essentially the same thing. That amendment passed by a voice vote and then the overall bill passed 117-1.

The House will now consider the Senate bill and vice versa.

Based on the size of the vote already taken in each chamber on the issue, it appears likely that legislation will pass this session requiring DPS to offer driver’s license services in each county.

But members point out that nothing is certain in the legislative process.

When the issue was taken up in the Senate, the only opposition centered around whether a Department of Public Safety, already strapped for funds, can afford the service.

For years, legislators, including Sen. J.P. Wilemon, D-Belmont, have been working to place the DPS in each county.

Jolly’s legislation has been referred to the House Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee chaired by Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn. Turner said he supports the concept but would talk to the Department of Public Safety about the issue and obtain a fiscal note – on the cost of the service – before trying to pass it on the House floor.

Warren Strain, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said his agency does not take positions on legislation but will carry out whatever laws the Legislature passes.

Strain said 45 counties have driver’s license stations – many of them open only part time. He said at no time in recent memory have DPS stations been located in all 82 counties.

He pointed out that people can get a license renewed online and for additional money can opt for an eight-year instead of four-year renewal.

Plus, there are 29 kiosks located across the state where licenses can be renewed, according to a Department of Public Safety website, www.dps.state.ms.us/driver-services.

According to the DPS web page, there is no driver’s license station in the Northeast Mississippi counties of Chickasaw, Benton, Itawamba or Marshall.