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ALEA reopens county driver’s license office

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has announced that it is reopening satellite driver’s licenses offices in 30 counties, including Butler County.

The offices will be open one day a month.

But some officials, who opposed the initial closings, argue that the limited time the offices will be open each month isn’t enough.

“There’s so much more work that the governor and the state Legislature must do in order to address the dire effect of the state budget cuts on rural Alabama,” U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell said. “The governor’s decision to reopen the offices is a reflection of why it is so important to make our voices heard. We must remain vigilant in our demand for equal access to essential services, and I will continue to stand strong with my constituents in this fight.”

On Oct. 1, ALEA closed 33 satellite offices citing a lack of funding resulting from an $11 million cut to the agency’s budget. ALEA said the closed offices handled only about 8,000 license transactions out of 1.2 million last year, less than 1 percent.

“Throughout the 2015 Legislative sessions, we communicated our concerns to the Legislature, the news media and the public by addressing the ongoing shortage of Driver License Division personnel created by past budgets and our ability to meet the needs of citizens should additional cuts be imposed,” said Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier said when announcing the closures. “Additionally, we took a proactive approach to solve a decade old funding issue with the Driver License Division’s operations by increasing the cost of the driver license to recoup a portion of the cost it takes to actually produce the license. The Legislature then reduced ALEA’s General Fund appropriation by the projected recoupment revenue thereby negating the proactive steps taken by the agency. We appreciate the support of those Legislators that have helped our agency and strive to provide the most efficient use of the taxpayer’s dollars. With the new budget cuts passed by the Alabama Legislature for fiscal year 2016, and with our limited personnel, travel has been eliminated to these part-time satellite locations.”

The decision was met with strong opposition from lawmakers such as Sewell and state Sen. Hank Sanders, who questioned the motivation behind the closings.

Both said it would make it more difficult for citizens in the state’s poorest region to secure the proper identification for voting because driver’s licenses are the most commonly used form of identification used under the state’s photo voter ID law.

Secretary of State John Merrill, the state’s chief election official, said the closings would not impact anyone’s ability to vote because voter ID cards would be available at each county’s Board of Registrars office.

“This issue is not related to voting,” Gov. Robert Bentley said. “It’s a budget issue and it’s a rural issue.”

The closings of the offices prevented new licenses from being issued in the county, however the county Probate Offices could still handle renewals. Licenses can also be renewed online.

The Butler County office will be open the fourth Thursday of each month at the 101 S. Conecuh St.

Bentley said the once-a-month plan can be adjusted if demand dictates that.

“We will just see what the needs are,” Bentley said today. “Some of the areas really don’t need it more than that. We’ll decide if others need it more than that and we’ll try to adjust as needed.”