DRC_Dave Lieber

Dave Lieber

No wonder the state of Texas can’t fix a problem every other state knows how to handle.

Others provide driver’s licenses in a way that doesn’t inflict cruel and unusual punishment on people.

Recap: lines at most driver’s license centers often start forming in the morning heat even before the doors open.

It’s not unusual to hear stories of people who wait three, four or five hours to get their driver’s license renewed.

Here’s to the lucky few who get in and out in 15 minutes and write me to brag about it. Bully for you.

And here’s to those of you who can renew online without making a visit. Enjoy it now, because one of these days, they’re going to call you in for your once-every-12-years in-person visit: a new photo and eyesight check needed.

This is more important than ever because starting in October 2020, if you don’t have the image of a star on your license, TSA won’t let you use your license as ID at an airport. (A passport would still work.)

40 days and 40 nights for answers

In a stunning dereliction of public duties, the Texas Department of Public Safety took 40 days to answer several simple questions from The Watchdog about the new setup. These questions all came from readers. I didn’t know the answers, and I wasn’t about to guess.

The Watchdog was so annoyed at the ridiculous wait that I wrote a protest letter to Gov. Greg Abbott.

“We sincerely apologize for the delay in this response,” wrote Sheri Gipson, assistant chief of DPS’ Driver’s License Division.

Let me share her answers (slightly edited for brevity) to readers’ questions:

Q: If you live in one county, can you renew and update a driver’s license in another county? (Can you avoid long lines by visiting less populated driver’s license centers.)

A: You can renew a driver’s license or ID card at any county in the state. (Note from The Watchdog: I hear things are slow in the Corsicana office.)

Q: Can seniors or disabled persons get special privileges and move to the front of the line?

A: Customers who need special accommodations via the Americans With Disabilities Act may contact the office in advance by submitting a request at a DPS website. (Watchdog note: The URL to find the form is long, so I’ve created a short version for you: http://bit.ly/ADATX. There’s a phone number on the page, too, but good luck with that: 512-424-2600.) DPS employees make every effort to assist those needing help as soon as they are made aware of the need. ... Employees work the line as often as possible to identify those who are elderly or may need special assistance to get them into the office as quickly as possible.

Q: At some centers, why must applicants wait outside in the heat for up to two hours or more before they get in the front door to get their documents checked? Why not have someone go outside and talk to everyone on the line to make sure they have the correct forms of ID and, if they don’t, avoid the wait?

A: The ability to check documents in the line is based on available staffing. Each office may not have the staffing to provide this additional service. With the additional funding provided by the Legislature (more than $200 million), we will be increasing staff at the mega centers and severely crowded offices. ... The majority of these new positions will be filled by the end of the year.

Q: Is there a workaround to the star on the license? (There’s a rumor out there that having a Texas map that shows up in the light will do the trick.)

A: The Texas map is a design feature of the current license and ID. This does not indicate REAL ID compliance. Real ID is the name of the federal law requiring tighter restrictions on ID cards. That indicator is the gold star in the upper right-hand corner.

Q: Why is the star in at least three different places on a license? (The upper right, beside the photo and on the left side.)

A: The reflective stars are a design feature in the card lamination. The star in the gold circle in the upper right-hand corner is the REAL ID compliance indicator.

Q: If you go to a center and get a license to update it before your expiration date, does the expiration date stay the same so you don’t lose that time?

A: When you renew early, the new expiration date is determined by adding six years to the current expiration date of your license.

Q: Who can renew online vs. who must come in?

A: Customers who are U.S. citizens who did not renew online at their last renewal may renew online. Other restrictions may apply, such as if a person is 79 years or older or is a registered sex offender. These may prohibit a person from renewing online. Customers can go to Texas.gov to check their eligibility to renew online.

Q: I heard from a DeSoto man who presented his voter card, selective service registration, auto insurance card, existing license and his Social Security card. He was turned away and told to bring back his original birth certificate or certified copy of his passport. Is this correct?

A: Under REAL ID, the birth certificate is crucial. A full list of acceptable documents is here. (Here’s a short link I made: http://bit.ly/TexasIDocuments).

Bottom line: Most folks don’t know about the requirement starting in October 2020 for an updated driver’s license with a star in a gold circle. Check your license or ID card for one. If you’re missing the star, you can still travel with a passport, military ID or other federally approved ID.

DPS offers an online appointment setting function, but it doesn’t always work, customers tell me.

If you want to get an updated license, and you’re lucky, you might be able to renew online. That’s worth a try.

If not, go to a license center. And bring a book.

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