News release from Department of Safety:
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security today announced that the average wait time at state driver services centers has decreased so far this year compared to 2012.
The average wait time from January 1 – June 30 at centers statewide, excluding reinstatement centers, fell from 34 minutes in 2012 to 31.5 minutes in 2013. There was a slight increase, however, from the first quarter of 2013 in which the average wait time was 30.5 minutes compared to the second quarter when the wait time averaged 32 minutes.
The decrease in wait time for the first six months happened while the number of statewide transactions at driver services centers increased. Driver license examiners served 621,405 customers from January 1 – June 30, 2012. In the first six months of 2013, the number of customers grew to 626,211.
“We are monitoring these figures very closely. Reducing the wait time at our driver service centers is a priority so when we experience an increase we act immediately to identify the reasons,” Commissioner Bill Gibbons said.
The average wait time at driver service centers in the state of Tennessee for the first quarter of 2013 was nearly 32 minutes, which is up six minutes from the last quarter of 2012, reports Nooga.com.
These figures, released by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Wednesday, also show that the number of statewide transactions increased to 327,114 in the first quarter of 2013, compared to 295,444 in the last quarter of last year.
But the wait time for the first quarter of 2013 is slightly lower than the average wait time for last year’s first quarter, when the average was closer to 33 minutes.
“We are committed to reducing wait times at our driver service centers,” Commissioner Bill Gibbons said in a prepared statement. “We are concerned about the uptick in wait times, especially after making such great progress in the last three months of 2012. But we are taking proactive steps to help reverse this trend and help create a more satisfying experience for our customers.”
Gibbons also said that the increase was because of an increase in handgun permit applications, vacant management positions at several driver service centers and equipment failures. Meanwhile, in other news….
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state is closing its driver license center in Lawrenceburg.
An announcement from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security said operations will be merged with the driver service center in Columbia on May 15.
There will be, however, a self-service kiosk in the City of Lawrenceburg Administrative Services Building, where drivers can renew expiring licenses or apply to get lost licenses replaced. The kiosk will take photos and accept credit card and debit card fee payments.
First-time drivers or people who recently moved to Tennessee can travel to Columbia or to centers in Hardin or Lincoln counties.
The department is also working with the Wayne and Giles county clerks to offer license renewal and replacement services in those counties.
Beginning this spring, Tennesseans who apply for or renew driver’s licenses also are going to have their identities checked, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Customers at driver service centers or county clerks’ offices will leave with paper “interim” licenses. Meanwhile, the state will take a week to run their pictures through photo-recognition technology and compare them against 12 million images in a database.
“It is compared to many other faces to make sure you are who you say you are,” said Lori Bullard, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. “It has a measure of security.”
Bullard said the new process and extra security checks are meant to clamp down on fraud and identity theft. As another layer of security, drivers will receive their laminated plastic permanent driver’s licenses by mail instead of at the counter of a driver service center. That helps verify where the applicant lives, Bullard explained.
The new process, called “central issuance,” is being piloted at the Hamilton County Clerk’s Office, which has been authorized to replace and renew driver’s licenses since 2004. Equipment for the process was installed Thursday.
….The change is part of a five-year effort to restructure the license application process since Congress passed the Real ID Act — a 2005 law requiring stricter, uniform requirements for issuing driver’s licenses across the nation.
All states were required to be compliance with the law by Jan. 15. Tennessee had already bought equipment to implement Real ID and had begun conducting background checks for all clerks involved in issuing licenses.
But in December, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security once again extended the deadline — though it has not released a new schedule. Only 13 states, including Tennessee and Georgia, have met the standards of the law, according to The Associated Press, while others have balked at the costs to come into compliance.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A new law requiring Tennessee residents 60 years of age or older to have a photo on their driver’s license is among those that take effect on Tuesday, though its sponsor says those who don’t already have them won’t be required to go get them.
Sen. Jim Tracy, the legislation’s sponsor, said for some reason those individuals were exempted when the law was passed years ago requiring photos on driver’s licenses.
“We went back and researched the law and could not find a reason why they were exempted, so we decided to close the gap and make it the same for everyone,” said the Shelbyville Republican.
He said those seniors who don’t have a photo on their license before Tuesday won’t be required to get one.
“They can keep it the same; we didn’t want to inconvenience them,” Tracy said.
However, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said the new requirement does pose an inconvenience to seniors with mobility issues, or those in rural areas, who may be unable to get to the proper location to make the change.
Kyle said they were exempted when the measure requiring photos on driver’s licenses first passed because the legislation was aimed at preventing teenagers from using fake identification to purchase alcohol.
“That’s what drove that issue,” he said. “Someone who is 60 years old is not going to look younger than 21 in order to purchase alcohol.”
A Tennessee state employee charged with giving licenses to unqualified applicants pleaded guilty today to federal bribery counts in federal district court in Nashville, reports The Tennessean. The defendant, Larry Murphy, 54, who worked for the Department of Safety, had been accused of issuing state drivers licenses in exchange for more than $5,000 in bribes over five months ending in April.
U.S. District Judge Kevin Sharp told Murphy, of Antioch, that he faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.
In April, federal prosecutors filed a complaint against Murphy after an investigation found that he was connected to a person suspected of selling identification documents to undocumented immigrants.
According to the complaint, when an undercover FBI agent sought from Murphy a commercial driving license without a Social Security number, Murphy made one up.
Murphy also fabricated the agent’s medical certification by altering information from another applicant, according to the complaint.
The undercover agent paid Murphy $3,500 through a third party.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A woman who couldn’t obtain photo identification and didn’t think she’d be able to vote was allowed to through a rarely used exemption in Tennessee’s new voter ID law.
The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/Shkz4U ) reported 56-year-old Cora Beach voted Thursday by signing an affidavit that she is “indigent and unable to obtain proof of identification without paying a fee.”
In doing so, Beach was able to take advantage of a clause that exempts voters who claim religious objections to being photographed or to the indigent.
Beach visited driver vehicle centers in Davidson County three times recently, only to have her application to acquire a photo ID turned down. She lacked marriage licenses, including one from Ohio, to allow officials to trace her birth name of Cora Jones to her current name.
The Tennessean has a story of a Nashville woman’s efforts to get a photo ID for voting. Cora Beach, 56, who lives in public housing in East Nashville and requires regular dialysis for kidney failure, has so far been unsuccessful. On her initial trip to a Davidson County driving center, Beach lacked a required birth certificate to prove citizenship. She quickly fixed that by having one sent from her native Selma, Ala.
But Beach was turned away again last week and a third time Tuesday — at separate driving centers — even though she displayed her birth certificate, apartment rental lease and Social Security, Medicaid and Davidson County voting cards.
Those documents more than met the state’s requirement of two documents to prove residency. But there’s one final document Beach must produce, and, so far, she hasn’t been able to: her two marriage licenses, including one from Toledo, Ohio.
…Michael Hogan, director of the Department of Safety’s Driver Service Division, said driving center workers are following the correct protocol in Beach’s situation by trying to match her birth certificate to her proof of Tennessee residency.
“Those documents have to line up,” he said. “What happens is, particularly with women, whenever they marry, their legal name is now the name of their husband.”
Hogan says marriage certificates, divorce decrees or certified court orders are used to “bridge that gap” of identity from a maiden name to current last name
Beach, who claims on one occasion she waited at the driving center for two hours only to be turned down, described her ordeal in one word: “hell.”
Starting July 1, clerks throughout Tennessee gained the power to begin suspending driver’s licenses if court fees and fines go unpaid for a year. But The Tennessean reports that not a single license has been suspended, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. Even Tommy Bradley, chief administrative officer for the Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk’s Office and the man who wrote the law, is holding off until Aug. 1 to give debtors one last chance to pay at least something.
Other clerks are questioning whether to suspend licenses at all, out of logistical or moral reservations.
“I just want to wait and see,” said Wilson County Circuit Court Clerk Linda Neal. “I’m afraid this law is going to be hurting the people who would really like to put out the effort to pay and they simply can’t.”
Bradley acknowledges there is “widespread” opposition to the law, which he wrote to help collect hundreds of millions in uncollected court costs.
…Neal said that aside from moral qualms at saddling poor offenders with even more burdens, she’s not sure she has the money or staff to send out notices and then process debtors for suspensions.
“We’ve got all the work that we can say grace over now,” Neal said. “To me, it’s going to be more record-keeping and a little bit more difficult to keep up with.”
Neal said she’s more likely to just continue sending unpaid debts to a collection agency. It’s cheaper and easier on her overworked staff.
Embattled Davidson County Clerk John Arriola plans to resign at the end of this week in what appears to be a deal with local prosecutors, according to The Tennessean. Arriola has been under investigation for nearly a year over charging couples a $40 fee and pocketing the money when his office performed weddings.
He gathered about 60 staff members for a brief meeting at 7:30 a.m. today.
“He didn’t go into an explanation other than it was just time to step down,” said Jonathan Saad, director of external operations for the clerk’s office.
District Attorney General Torry Johnson said in a news release that his investigation of Arriola, conducted jointly with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation since July, has concluded with the clerk’s submission of a resignation letter, which Johnson’s office delivered to Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors today. Arriola wrote without elaboration that as “a duly elected official,” he would resign at the close of business Friday.
“With his resignation from office, there will be no prosecution of alleged or purported state criminal law violations as a result of what the audits found,” the release said.
Johnson also said, however, that Arriola’s actions “weren’t necessarily criminal in nature.”
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A nonprofit that campaigns against drunk driving could lose its specialty Tennessee auto license plate if more drivers don’t buy them.
The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/L2CGer ) reported Mothers Against Drunk Driving has until June 30 for 66 more vehicle owners to buy the plates or no more will be issued.
Tennessee Department of Revenue spokesman Billy Trout said if the specialty plates are canceled, people who already have then would be issued a standard plate at their next yearly renewal. To retain specialty plates, nonprofits must have 500 vehicle owners buy the extra cost plates. Drivers who order them pay a premium on top of the state tax and local option wheel taxes.
The sale of the plates provides about $15,000 annually to the organization. The revenue allows volunteers to provide services to victims of drunk drivers and their families.
Flint Clouse, state executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, lost his grandmother when a drunk driver hit her car nine years ago, something he called a “preventable crime.”
He said that if the organization loses its specialty plate, he will have to cut programming time and spend more time on fundraising.