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Proposal to close 6 rural DMV offices appears dead after frosty reception from legislators

DMV office in Anchorage.
DMV office in Anchorage.(KTUU)
Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 6:19 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - After a cold reception from state legislators, the proposed closure of six Division of Motor Vehicles offices across Alaska in favor of private providers appears to be dead.

The proposal would have seen DMV offices closed in Tok, Delta Junction, Eagle River, Homer, Haines and Valdez.

Kelly Tshibaka, the Department of Administration’s former commissioner, told a Senate committee in early March that the plan was to have DMV services provided by private companies in those communities.

Some of them, like Delta Junction, already have a private company operating. Tshibaka said that negotiations were taking place with companies in the other communities so a transition could take place to close the state offices.

Around 95% of DMV services are offered online, but under Alaska statute, some services require people traveling into the offices in person. Those include getting a first license and for seniors 69 or older to renew their licenses.

Members of the House of Representatives from both sides of the aisle have opposed the plan after hearing from their constituents.

Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, voted against the proposed closure of rural DMVs, saying some communities don’t have alternative options for in-person services. She’s introduced her own bill that would allow seniors to renew their licenses online with a certified statement from a physician or optometrist.

Some concerns expressed to legislators about the proposed closures include the distance needed to travel to other DMVs and a potential hike in prices by private providers

Nona Safra, a senior advocate and member of the Alaska Commission on Aging who lives in Homer, says closing the local DMV would negatively impact the community, particularly for seniors and disabled Alaskans. She said her next closest DMV office is a 75-mile trip in each direction.

Online services may work for people who live in urban Alaska, Safra said, “But there’s a lot of Alaskans that don’t, and I want to be a voice for those people.”

A House Finance Subcommittee rejected the request to close the offices which was estimated to save $582,500. That version of the operating budget now heads to the House Finance Committee before heading onto the House floor and then to the Senate.

After resigning as commissioner and announcing her candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Tshibaka said the proposal would only have moved ahead if it was supported by the local communities’ representatives.

“My recommendation before I left was that we would not be moving forward with that,” she added. “I obviously won’t have any say from here.”

Kelly Hanke, a spokesperson for the Department of Administration, noted that the planned transition to private providers had been removed through the subcommittee process.

“Acting Commissioner Holland intends to follow the budget that is enacted,” Hanke added on Wednesday.

Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, introduced legislation in response to the Dunleavy administration’s plan. It would keep existing DMV offices open in communities with 850 or more people.

“That doesn’t prevent additional providers, private providers, from coming in if there is a market, but it does protect existing core services,” he said.

Fields’ legislation was voted out of the House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday, supported along caucus lines with two Republicans voting in opposition.

Rep. James Kaufman, R-Anchorage, said the political process had worked on the DMV issue as the Dunleavy administration was now pulling back from it. He said that passing a bill like Fields’ could potentially limit the state’s choices in the future.

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