SOS Caravan comes to Hayneville to call upon governor to reopen Blackbelt DL offices

Published 8:39 pm Thursday, October 22, 2015

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal
The SOS (Save OurSelves) caravan calling for no shutdown of driver’s license offices, particularly in Alabama’s Black Belt, including Lowndes County, made a stop in Hayneville today (Thursday, Oct. 22), calling for Governor Robert Bentley to reconsider his plan to only open the offices one day per month.
The caravan, visiting 11 of the 13 Black Belt counties, also made stops in Macon County, Butler County and Wilcox County on Thursday, and planned to make stops in Pickens, Sumter, Greene, Hale, Perry and Dallas County on Friday, Oct. 23.
Among local leaders and others in attendance in Hayneville were Lowndes County Commissioners Brenson Crenshaw, Carnell McAlpine and Robert Harris (chairman), Hayneville Mayor David Daniel, Lowndes County Sheriff John Williams, Lowndes County District Court Judge Adrian D. Johnson, Lowndes County Probate Judge John E. Hulett, Lowndes County Assistant District Attorney Will Kelly, State Senator Hank Sanders, State Representative Kelvin Lawrence, Orbuty Ozier (formerly of the Lowndes County Water Authority), former Hayneville Mayor Helenor Bell, Rose Sanders, Hayneville Police Chief Kelvin Mitchell and Catrena Norris Carter.
Bentley recently stated that he 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.
To shouts of “no shutdowns,” Hulett said he would like to find out what the problem is regarding driver’s license office shutdowns in the Black Belt. “We’ve got a county in Lowndes that’s got a driver’s license place set up; we’ve got free rent; and we are willing to pay a person to be here once a week. If the governor and the Legislature can’t see this, then there’s some problems in our Legislature.”
Hulett continued, “When they run for office, they always say they want to do something for the Black Belt, and now they are doing something to the Black Belt. We need to get our offices opened back up for the driver’s license.”
Harris echoed Hulett. He also said he thought the governor should be able to listen to the governing body of the county in order for the office to be open one day per week.
“So, we just look forward to him (the governor) changing his mind and hoping that it will be done in a timely manner,” Harris said.
Lawrence said state leaders have said they want to do all they can to help the Black Belt to see prosperity and economic development. “But right now,” Lawrence said, “What this is doing is setting the Black Belt back 15 to 20 years. It’s taken away a very necessary service that is very important to all the citizens here in Lowndes County, as well as the Black Belt.”
He called for “no shutdowns” and said the governor is being asked, “Please, please reopen our state driver’s license offices in the Black Belt and Lowndes County, as well.”
A man in the crowd said, “The money is already there.” He said the driver’s license fee was increased from $23.50 to $36.25. “They did that in January,” he said. “Where is all that money that they have collected? Why aren’t they using that money that they have collected to fund these driver’s license places? I call that voter suppression.”
Rose Sanders said, “There are so many aspects of this problem… our children… And I’m suggesting this might have an impact on crime. What if they start driving their daddy’s car without the license in Montgomery and they are caught without the license?” She said, “This has far reaching results.”
Sanders thanked the governor for giving SOS the chance to organize and stand together. She said, “Let’s keep together until this fight is over. And it won’t be over until we have expanded Medicaid, until we do something about immigration and justice and these other issues.”
Crenshaw said of Lowndes County residents, “They have a hard enough time trying to get here to take care of business and this one day out of a month is not going to help our people.”
He said, however, the one day per week that the county had before did have an economic impact on local businesses.
“People made their business around that one day to come here,” Crenshaw said. He said the county’s residents can’t afford to go to Montgomery. “They can’t afford it. We’re already depressed. Why should we continue to be this way? There is no reason that this office should shut down because as stated before we have the mean. ..”
He said, “Governor, talk to us. We’re not unapproachable. Come, let’s sit down and talk and work this thing out. We can keep the driver’s license office open here and serve our citizens.”
Johnson said, “We pay taxes just everybody in the state of Alabama. We expect the same level of governmental services as everybody else. We are not asking for anything different. We are asking to be treated the same as everybody else.”
Johnson also stated that Rose Sanders had “hit the nail on the head.” He said, “We haven’t talked about how this is going to increase all of the problems in the court system.”
Johnson said, “When I handled a no driver’s license ticket before, I would tell them, ‘Well go Wednesday. Go get your driver’s license. Bring it to me, and I’ll dismiss the ticket.”’ He said, “Now they won’t even have that opportunity.”
Johnson said, “Our entire legal circuit, which is Lowndes, Butler and Crenshaw (counties) does not have a single driver’s license office open now. The entire circuit is closed down.”
He continued regarding the office closures, “As we all know in rural Alabama, transportation is a huge issue… We need to be mindful that you are unfairly impeding the rights of poor and working class citizens in this state by refusing to reopen these driver’s license offices.”
Daniel asked that governor open the Lowndes County driver’s test office at least once a week.
Carter of Birmingham spoke of the burden on that city to have people from surrounding counties come to where there is already up to an eight hour wait.
She said, “For you to say one day a month is acceptable and for some of our leaders to agree… unacceptable, inexcusable, shameful, shame on you Bentley. No shutdowns.”
Sprinkled among chants of “shame on Bentley” were also chants of “impeach Bentley.”
Ozier said, “To my governor Bentley, I choose to believe that maybe you don’t understand what we are going through down here… We already deal with the young people who are saying we that don’t have enough jobs… now they’re saying you are taking away what it takes for us to get to our jobs.”
A young man from Birmingham of the Alabama Young Democrats Black Caucus said, “Governor Bentley I’m ashamed at you. I don’t believe that you as a governor would even have the audacity to let your people be held down for something you’re not even taking responsibility for. It is time that we tell you no shut down. And it’s time that you listen to your voters.”
Sanders said, “There is no economic reason, there is no revenue reason, there are no physical reasons for closing down these driver’s license offices.” He read the language of the budget that called for the driver’s license fee increase to be used to adequately fund and staff driver’s license offices to minimize customer inconvenience and that all driver’s license offices, including two proposed at the beginning of 2015, remain in operation during physical year 2016. Further that any reductions implemented by the ALEA in 2016 focus on areas not directly impacting services provided directly to customers.
He said, “If there is no budgetary reason, there must be political reason.” He continued, “It’s going to make it harder for a lot of folks to vote. It’s going to make it harder for a lot of folks to work. It’s going to make it harder for a lot of folks to get from place to place.”
Sanders said most people he talks to don’t want a voter ID because that is all he said it could be used for. “They want a driver’s license because you can use it for voting, you can use it for banking, you can use it everywhere else.”
It was announced on Sept. 30 that an $11 million cut in the new general fund appropriation to the ALEA would force the elimination of travel to 31 part-time, non-state owned, satellite locations.

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