Michigan Senate votes to extend expiration date for driver's licenses, registrations

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News
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Lansing — The Republican-controlled Michigan Senate voted Thursday to extend the expiration date of driver's licenses and vehicle registrations and to require Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to offer walk-in services without appointments.

The legislation, which now goes to the GOP-led state House, comes amid a continued clash between Republican lawmakers and the Democratic secretary of state over wait times and her decision to move Michigan's 131 branch offices to an appointment-only system.

People wait in line at the Secretary of State branch office in Novi on March 16, 2021. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)

The Senate voted 25-10 for the two main bills in the package. Six Democrats crossed over to join majority Republicans in support. The votes came two days after Benson announced plans to add 350,000 appointment slots through Sept. 30 and to place greeters at the doors of each branch office to help people make appointments.

Benson suspended walk-in service without an appointment during the COVID-19 pandemic but has faced criticism because of the wait times — sometimes, multiple months — residents were experiencing to get an appointment.

"I want to be abundantly clear," the Detroit Democrat said previously. "We’re making improvements in our department in the absence of any support from the Legislature. We’re going it alone, but we don’t have to."

The bills say driver's licenses or official state identification cards that expire after March 1, 2020, are considered valid until Sept. 30, 2021. Lawmakers had previously set the expiration date at March 31, 2021.

The package similarly extends the expiration date for vehicle registrations and bars Benson's office from charging some fees for services, including late renewal penalties, unless it offers "adequate in-person services." The proposals define the standard as "a minimum of 25 hours a week of in-person services, without the requirement of an appointment or preregistration."

Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, voted in favor of the bills but argued the in-person services requirement would have "no effect" because of Benson's new plans to have greeters at offices.

The bills must gain the approval of the House and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's signature to become law.

Normally, policy proposals go through a Senate committee before being voted on by the full Senate. Senate leadership advanced the three bills on the secretary of state processes directly to the floor for votes.

Benson first announced her plans for an appointment-only system in April, saying it is part of her vision for a "modern service-driven department."

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.

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