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Legislators Look To Cut DMV Wait Times

Budget Bill Aims To Correct Past Mistakes

By Sean Brown, August 29, 2018 7:48 pm

Members on the Assembly Floor considered a batch of State Budget clean-up bills on Wednesday, including SB 862 (Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review), a seemingly mild proposal that would make clarifying and technical revisions necessary to implement the Budget Act of 2018.

Many members stood up in support of the measure as it included key funding provisions that were generally supported on both sides of the aisle, including provisions related to sexual assault kits; diapers for low-income families with infants or toddlers; funding for the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018; and, the Safe Drinking Water for Schools Grant Program.

However, a provision dropped into the bill would allow for the Director of Finance to appropriate money for the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to alleviate wait times at field offices. It would also require, if the DMV requests the funding, submission of a report that includes the status of resources provided, justification for additional resources and estimated impact on wait times in field offices. It would also require DMV to report on potential business process improvements, and to report monthly until December 31, 2020 on wait times in field offices.

Assemblywoman Catharine Baker in a photo from her campaign website taken March 25, 2016. (bakerforassembly.com)

Here’s where the opposition raised up. Many members gave adamant speeches about the significant wait times at the local DMVs and the lack of leadership and accountability. The additional allocation represented awarding the DMV for bad behavior such as previously mentioned increased waits. Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-Dublin) gave a passionate speech about the stacks of letters on her desk from constituents who have experienced “egregious” wait times at the local DMVs. She cited an example of a constituent who waited over 8 hours in line at the DMV before passing out and sustaining injuries. When the EMT arrived she was told that if she got out of line to be treated she would lose her place. She was tended to in line, while others looked on, to keep her place and not start the long wait over.

The frustration has been brewing among legislators and constituents alike across the state. In the Sacramento region, wait times “have increased by 60 percent, compared to a 48 percent increase in the Bay Area and 46 percent statewide.” (Sac Bee). Earlier this month at a budget hearing on the DMV, many members expressed no-confidence in DMV Director Jean Shiomoto’s ability to rectify the wait issue. Assemblymembers Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), Phillip Chen (R-Diamond Bar) and Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach) requested a joint legislative audit of the DMV to, among other things, figure how much wait times are increasing and what factors are increasing those times; how accurate and reliable the wait times are that are posted on DMV website; what steps DMV has taken to reduce wait times. The audit request fell short by one vote needed to pass. Instead, more money will be allocated to do the job that some members believe DMV should already be doing.

Some members in opposition, including Assemblywoman Baker, however, felt captive to the bill’s other “good” provisions and voted to support the measure. The bill passed off the floor with a 55-17 vote. The DMV wait times will surely be a hot topic issue when the Legislature reconvenes early next year as well as in the November Governor’s race where Republican Candidate John Cox has used the DMV’s inefficiency as a major campaign point, pointing to it as a symptom of Sacramento’s habit of throwing money at problems hasn’t improved the situation.

Sean Brown

Before becoming a writer for the California Globe, Sean served as a Legislative Director in the New York City Council and is an NYU alumnus.
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