DMV closure proposal meets resistance

The Alaska State Legislature is still working on the next steps for the Department of Administration’s (DOA) proposed closing of six rural DMV locations around the state of Alaska, including Delta Junction, Eagle River, Haines, Valdez, Tok and Homer for the FY2022 budget.

On Mar. 18, Rep. Sara Vance, R-Homer, proposed HB 140 with the support of several constituents, including Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, a representative from one of the impacted DMV locations. HB 140 repeals the requirement for Alaskans – specifically for seniors age 69 and older – to appear in person for a driver’s license renewal. Instead, seniors aged 69 and older looking to renew their license without visiting the nearest DMV would obtain an eye exam from their local physician and provide documentation of approval for renewal online or via mail. This would reduce nearly half of the state’s in-person DMV visits, according to a press release from the Alaska House Republicans.

While HB 140 seems to solve a key issue for seniors needing to use in-person DMV services in the case of the closures being implemented, Peter Zuyus, executive director of Friends of Seniors, an advocacy organization that supports senior citizens statewide, points out the hidden problems with HB 140.

“In Alaska, Medicare does not pay for eye exams,” said Zuyus. “The Alaskan Department of Labor said $232 is the average cost for a non-paid eye exam. All of a sudden, the drivers license renewal for a senior goes from $20 to $252. That’s a big change in price, so Seniors of Alaska is opposing that.”

Prior to the release of HB 140, Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, introduced HB 137, which proposes that the only entity authorized to close any DMV location, particularly for those in rural areas defined as communities with at least 850 persons, will be the legislature, not the Dept. of Administration Commissioner.

“HB 137 has been implemented to protect access to DMVs for seniors and Alaskans,” said Rep. Fields. “It’s nonsensical to close down DMVs when they generate revenue for the state. Why would you close down a program that makes money?”

Currently, Dept. of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka has authority to close all six rural DMVs, despite a lack of support from the legislature.

At a March 8 Senate Finance Committee meeting, Commissioner Tshibaka offered to the legislature, “The proposals for the DMV are for you all to consider... We’re not going to impose those cuts if you’re not thrilled with them.”

On March 23, the House State Affairs Committee voted to reject the DOA’s proposal to close six rural DMV locations.

As Zuyus says, “We have only won a skirmish. The budget still has to go to the House Finance Committee before being consolidated for the House and the Senate to vote on further.”

Zuyus says Seniors of Alaska supports HB 137’s offering of protection to rural DMVs.

As of March 17, HB 137 and HB 140 have both been referred to the House State Affairs Committee for further deliberation.

Both bills can be tracked online at Enter “HB 137” or “HB 140” into the search bar at the top right of the page to view all bill information including documents and session teleconferences.