Regarding governor’s statement, Commission Chairman Harris takes exception to opening DL office once a month

Published 6:28 pm Friday, October 16, 2015

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal
Lowndes County Commission Chairman Robert Harris took exception to Governor Robert Bentley’s statement Friday that he has asked the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) to provide once a month service to counties affected by the closure of 31 driver’s license offenses in the state’s rural counties, including Lowndes.
“After careful consideration of options regarding the closure of 31 Driver’s License offices in Alabama’s rural counties, I have asked that an Alabama Law Enforcement Agency examiner be provided one day a month to service those counties affected,” Bentley said in a statement Friday afternoon.
“On Thursday, I met with Congresswoman Terri Sewell, who represents eight of the impacted counties, to inform her of my decision,” he said.
Offices closed in The 7th Congressional District represented by Sewell includes Choctaw, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Perry, Pickens, Sumter and Wilcox counties.
“I am grateful that he reconsidered,” Harris said. “But I still take an issue with once a month because that does not help us in any form because, you know, that still puts that same hardship on the people of Lowndes County.”
While Harris viewed the driver’s license office as a two for one stop regarding voter IDs and driver’s licenses, he said residents could go to the board of registrars for voter ID. But, he said, “The driver’s license problem is what we have.”
Harris stressed that the governor should talk to local county officials. He said the ALEA was not paying rent or utilities for the driver’s license office, and no one has been laid off as a result of the closings. “So, they are not losing any money in anyway,” he said.
Harris said, “The county would be willing to pay to keep the driver’s license open once a week.”
State Representative Kelvin Lawrence, who serves Lowndes County, said recently that county residents already have limited modes of transportation and the closure of the driver’s license office decreases the services that are provided in the county to make the lives of citizens better.
He said with the driver’s license office being gone, people have to take a day off from work and school to go to Montgomery.
“The voices of our most vulnerable citizens have been further silenced by the decision to close 31 driver’s license offices across Alabama,” Sewell said in a press release on Thursday, Oct. 1. “Under Alabama’s voter ID law, only a handful of photo identification can be used at polling places, and the state-issued driver’s license is the most popular form of identification presented.”
Bentley said Friday, “I recognize the closure of the 31 driver’s license offices effects mostly rural areas of the state. To suggest the closure of the driver’s license offices is a racial issue is simply not true, and to suggest otherwise should be considered an effort to promote a political agenda.”
He said, “Alabama has provided numerous options by which citizens can obtain a voter ID, and the closure of the Driver’s License offices should not be seen as a hindrance to someone’s ability to do that. The budget passed by the state Legislature required many executive branch departments to make difficult business decisions regarding how they will allocate their limited resources in Fiscal Year 2016. As the Governor of Alabama, I have the responsibility to run state government within the budget provided by the state legislature.”
Other affected counties near Lowndes County include Butler and Crenshaw.

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