Senate panel approves bills to address COVID-19 backlogs at Secretary of State branch offices

LANSING, Mich. — The Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday approved Sen. Ruth Johnson’s legislation to double the number of times Michigan residents can renew their driver’s licenses online or by mail.

“Allowing people to renew their driver’s licenses and state ID cards twice remotely before having to come into a branch office would greatly improve convenience for Michigan families,” said Johnson, who served as secretary of state from 2011 to 2019. “This would also help struggling branch office staff, who are doing their best to keep up with the backlog of transactions caused by temporary branch closures and new safety protocols put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Senate Bill 1111 would allow Michigan residents to renew their driver’s licenses online or by mail for two four-year periods. SB 1112, sponsored by Sen. Betty Jean Alexander, would apply the same extension to state personal identification cards.

Currently, residents can renew their driver’s license or state ID card online or by mail once for a four-year term but must renew them in person every eight years at a Secretary of State branch office to get a new photograph. This would be pushed to 12 years under the proposed bills, the maximum allowed under new federal REAL ID requirements.

Johnson pointed out other transactions could also be affected by the changes.

“People are having trouble getting an appointment to transfer the title of a car they want to buy or sell,” said Johnson, R-Holly. “They can’t get scheduled to take an examination for a commercial driver’s license or chauffer’s license — or a mechanic certification — that they need to do their job. If we reduce the branch traffic for renewals it helps free up appointments for those types of transactions to get done faster too.”

“These are bipartisan, commonsense reforms,” said Alexander, D-Detroit. “This legislation would help ensure Michigan residents can get their needs met in a timely manner.”

SBs 1111 and 1112 now head to the full Senate for consideration. The state Legislature previously extended the expiration date and waived late fees for all driver’s licenses and state ID cards, as well as vehicle registrations, that were set to expire anytime after March 1, 2020 until Dec. 11, 2020. The federal government has also extended the expiration date for commercial driver’s licenses expiring after March 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020.