News Story

Secretary Of State Fines Motorists For Delayed Service, Blames Legislators

‘Until the law is changed by legislators, we are obligated to charge them’

People who wish to renew or obtain legally required documents at one of the branches of the Secretary of State often have to wait several months. The department is, however, still issuing late fees to people who have an expired driver's license, and officials say there’s nothing they can do about it.

Robert Hover said he ran into this problem when he went into the Fort Gratiot Township Secretary of State office recently.

Hover said he called two months in advance of his May 1 birthday to make an appointment to renew his driver’s license. But the only appointment available was one 24 days after his birthday, by which point his license had expired.

Hover said he was told by the manager at that particular office that he should contact his state representative if he has a complaint.

Hover isn’t the only one to experience long wait times and late fees at Secretary of State branches. The department’s official Facebook page has many angry comments from people who cannot get vehicle title transfers, on-time renewed licenses, driver’s permits and other documents.

Tracy Wimmer, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State, said state law requires it to charge late fees.

“It isn’t policy – it is state law. Until the law is changed by legislators, we are obligated to charge them,” Wimmer said.

Wimmer said the Secretary of State is working on a number of the concerns.

“We’ve been working on this on a number of fronts. First, we are adding 35,000 appointments every month and have increased capacity at our call center to provide more options for people who need to schedule an appointment, and we continue working to reduce the backlog created by the Legislature’s expiration extension, which expired on March 31,” Wimmer said.

She said the state is working to revamp its system so people will have fewer needs to make in-person visits to branch offices. For instance, a law that goes into effect July 1 makes photos on a driver’s license valid for 12 years instead of the current eight. In addition, she said, people will be able to renew a license online, by mail, or at one of the self-service stations across the state.

The Secretary of State is also working with the Legislature to introduce bills to waive late fees that arise out of current issues, she said.

“The short answer is the walk-in, take-a-number system was antiquated and thanks to years of budget cuts and staff reductions, often resulted in people waiting for hours to be seen,” Wimmer said. “Data overwhelming shows that customers prefer the appointment system, as our aggregate Google reviews have doubled from 2 stars to 4 since implementing the appointment system in June of last year, and that is why we’re going to listen to the people and continue it.”

The budget for branch operations increased from $76.0 million to $93.1 million over the past decade, a 3% increase when adjusted for inflation.

“Spending on branches has been pretty constant over the past decade, and nonexistent budget cuts cannot drive the decision to end drop-in services,” said James Hohman, director of fiscal policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.