LANSING, Mich., June 24, 2021 — Today, lawmakers introduced legislation to waive and reimburse late fees and phase extensions for driver’s licenses and other documents after the Republican-controlled Legislature let 13 months of extensions expire on March 31 of this year, creating unprecedented demand for Secretary of State (SOS) appointments.
In March of 2020, the Legislature passed laws allowing Michigan residents to drive on expired driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations and other documents so residents would not have to worry about renewing their documents during the pandemic. Those extensions were ultimately extended through March 31, 2021.
Then, Republican leaders in the Legislature chose to let those extensions abruptly end without any phasing based on when the documents traditionally expire over the course of the year, like on our birthdays for driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations.
“That’s why Michigan residents have had such a hard time getting an appointment at an SOS branch since late March,” said state Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township). “The COVID backlog for conducting business with the Secretary of State could and should have been avoided. Republicans created an impossible situation for Michigan residents by requiring everyone who utilized the extensions over 13 months during the pandemic to somehow magically renew their documents on April 1. In what world can 13 months of SOS transactions be conducted overnight?”
House Bills 5159, 5160, 5161 and 5162 were introduced today by Brixie and state Reps. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Township), Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck) and Ranjeev Puri (D-Canton), respectively. They would phase the extensions out by giving everyone who had their documents expire since March 1, 2020, 90 extra days from the normal date of expiration. For example, if your driver’s license expired on July 1, 2020, you would have 90 days from July 1 of this year to renew it. Or, if your license expires on July 1 of this year, you have 90 extra days to renew it.
“The legislation we are proposing today delivers real solutions to our constituents,” Brabec said. “Michiganders should not be forced to pay late fees because the Republican-controlled Legislature failed to phase in renewal extensions. This legislation works through the current backlog by phasing in renewal deadlines to give everyone 90 extra days to get caught up this year. This is a thoughtful approach that I hope will earn support from my colleagues across the aisle.”
Senate Bills 507, 508 and 509, introduced by Senate Republicans including former Secretary of State and now-state Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), repeats the same mistake by simply granting extensions for everyone with expired licenses and other documents until Sept. 30 of this year.
“The bills Senate Republicans introduced continue to make this same error by pushing all extensions out to September 30,” Aiyash said. “All this does is turn a 13-month backlog into a 19-month backlog. Instead of jamming up SOS offices and further frustrating Michiganders, our legislation phases the extension deadlines 90 days from your birthday or normal expiration date, so millions of Michiganders don’t have documents expire on the same day. Most importantly, our bills waive late fees and reimburse any resident who had to pay one to right this wrong.”
The bill package introduced today also includes consumer protections for Michigan residents in response to bad actors attempting to book up appointments and sell them online.
“The Republican-controlled Legislature failed to govern responsibly, and their decision caused bad actors to come in and take advantage of Michiganders,” Puri said. “Our legislation would amend the Consumer Protection Act to give the Attorney General the ability to hold online marketplaces, like Facebook, accountable for allowing SOS appointments to be sold for a profit on their websites. Michiganders deserve better and passing this package of bills is a good start at getting them the assistance and customer service they deserve.”
On June 1, state Rep. Stephanie A. Young (D-Detroit) and Brixie also introduced House Bills 4946 and 4947, which would provide funding for additional staffing and overtime hours to allow the SOS to extend hours Monday-Friday and on weekends at all 130 SOS branch locations, providing 500,000 more appointments between now and Sept. 30.
“Clearing the COVID backlog and helping residents get the in-person services they need, without putting a strain on the SOS’s budget, should be a no-brainer,” Young said. “This isn’t throwing money at a problem, it’s resolving a problem quickly to meet the needs of the people we are sworn to serve. The backlog was caused in part by COVID, which is why our bills use federal COVID relief funds to fix it. This is exactly what these funds were intended to be used for.”
The bills have yet to receive a hearing in the House Oversight Committee despite the Committee taking testimony on this issue twice this month.
Since Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson took office in 2019, wait times in SOS branches have decreased, and the percentage of transactions residents complete from the comfort of their home by mail, online or at a kiosk have increased from 26 percent to 60 percent. Each bill in the package would help the Secretary of State continue to improve customer service for Michigan residents and address the COVID backlog created on March 31 by the Republican-controlled Legislature.