I hope you all had an enjoyable holiday with family and friends! Lawmakers returned to St. Paul this week, and we have been busy in our committees as chairs have been presenting their budget bills to committee members. We expect the House majority to bring their spending proposals to the House floor for a full debate very soon.
IF THE GOAL IS EFFICIENCY, WE SHOULD KEEP ALBERT LEA DRIVERS LICENSE EXAM STATION OPEN
Not long ago, we all learned that the Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) agency is considering
consolidation of the state's 93 drivers' exam station locations into 15 regional exam hubs. Freeborn County will not have a drivers exam station if this consolidation occurs, as the Albert Lea facility would close.
DVS believes this change would build efficiencies and address backlogs in the system because examiners could simply work from their regional offices, cutting down on travel times across the state. The public would then travel to these regional stations for drivers' tests. One of the stations they are proposing closing is the Albert Lea driver's exam station.
I have heard from many local residents who expressed concern at the hardship this would cause our area. Think of the elderly who need access to a road test. Think of the families trying to juggle their schedules trying to get their teenager to a driving exam, many of which can't take a half day off work to drive to Austin or farther, wait in line for services and drive back.
Also consider the plight of local businesses who rely upon commercial drivers. For example, I heard from the division director of SMART Transit, which provides rural public transit to Freeborn, Mower, Steele and Waseca Counties.
SMART Transit drivers were having a difficult time getting their commercial drivers' licenses before the pandemic hit, even with the existing number of exam stations. Now the problem has worsened, as there are not enough testing times in Albert Lea or Austin. Their drivers have to wait 4 - 6 weeks just to get a test, and double that time if they don't pass the test the first try. SMART Transit often has to wait over 3 months to get a driver certified, making it tough to provide service to those who need public transportation, especially with the driver shortage.
A few weeks ago, I met at length with Public Safety Commissioner Harrington, who oversees the Drivers Vehicle Division. I shared with him the concerns of our residents and local government leaders, as none of them want to lose the Albert Lea station. The commissioner was very amenable to listening to local concerns and we discussed thoughts on how we might work toward government efficiency while keeping this exam station open.
We have approximately 30,000 people in Freeborn county, most of whom pay taxes. We should be providing service to this county at least to the level that it was pre-pandemic - which was two days a week. Even at that level, our county's citizens had substantial wait periods where one would have to wait weeks to get a driver's road test.
Senator Dornink and I recently sent a letter to Commissioner Harrington reiterating our local concerns and requesting that the Albert Lea drivers' exam station remain open. It is my hope that the agency will find creative ways to be efficient while serving the people of our area in this important government function.
The bottom line is government is here to serve people - people are not here to serve the government. It might be more convenient and efficient for government workers to do less traveling, but it is certainly not more convenient or efficient for our citizens to have to travel more. As a matter of fact, it is unworkable for many citizens.
I appreciate that Commissioner Harrington is working toward efficiency. Government should always be a wise and responsible manager of our tax dollars. However, there is a balance that must be found here between efficient use of tax dollars and of providing good service to citizens. We should be able to do both.
Have a good weekend,