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Wed, Oct. 23

Fann bill allows businesses to process driver's licenses

A new law aims to pave the way for the state to tighten its driver's license application process while also giving people more options.

Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, sponsored House Bill 2183 and Gov. Jan Brewer has signed it.

While the legislation makes numerous changes to state laws relating to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), its main thrust is to allow private businesses to process driver's licenses, said Kevin Biesty, government relations director for the Arizona Department of Transportation.

He's quick to note that the third-party providers will be able to issue only temporary driver's licenses.

Within a year, all state-run DMV offices also will start issuing only temporary licenses. A central DMV office will then mail all driver's licenses directly to successful applicants.

"As driver's licenses become a more critical document for people to obtain, we just can't take chances anymore," Biesty said.

Earlier this month, a DMV employee in Buckeye pleaded guilty to selling fake driver's licenses to two dozen undocumented residents for $2,000 each.

Arizona's DMV already is starting to use facial recognition software, and when the centralized driver's license system takes effect, the facial recognition checks will go agency wide, Biesty said. DMV will run photos through the system to make sure no one has two driver's licenses.

"This will be a major blow to identify theft," Biesty said.

Ken Foote, owner of Footework Auto License and Title Service, hopes to be one of the companies that qualify to issue temporary driver's licenses. He has offices in Prescott, Prescott Valley, Williams and soon Cottonwood.

"We've been pushing for this for nine years," Foote said. "This will allow us the final component."

His business already processes all the other applications that DMV does. He estimates three to five people daily ask his staff about processing driver's licenses.

Allowing private businesses to process driver's license applications will save the state money, save applicants time, and encourage businesses to open in underserved rural areas, Foote predicted.

The third-party providers also help businesses with vehicle fleets reduce the time they spend renewing registrations and conducting other business, Fann said.

The state authorized three private businesses to issue driver's licenses in Willcox, Phoenix and Tucson when it reduced its DMV offices about five years ago because of budget cuts, said Felipe Zubia, a lobbyist for the Motor Vehicle Providers Association. They have been successful but the state hasn't authorized more, he added.

Foote chairs the Motor Vehicle Providers Association that helped draft parts of the Fann bill. The association has about 45 members, and he estimates that about 70 percent will qualify to process driver's licenses.

"They have to have a proven track record with us," Biesty said. DMV will monitor their transactions and require them to post a bond, he added.

"If we have an infraction, the state could shut down my business," Foote added.

Fann's bill also has a component relating to driver training schools.

The bill originally deregulated these schools, but that portion was dropped.

Betsy Miller, owner of the A-1 Driving School in Prescott Valley, was among those opposing the deregulation. She feared it would put existing legitimate schools out of business.

ADOT already stopped allowing private driver education schools to issue certificates showing customers have completed their driver training. People could then skip the DMV school.

Miller said her business was cut in half because she can't issue certificates any more.

Arizona has attracted foreigners from around the country because its driver's licenses have been easier to obtain than other states. It has no residency requirements and lets people use translators to take written tests.

The state is working on tightening its rules and will then start allowing private schools to issue certificates again, Biesty said.

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