A recent social media posting by the Texas Association of Counties regarding driver’s license offices has caused some alarm in Liberty County after the Liberty office was included in a list of 80 being considered for closure. However, county and state officials say there is no reason to panic.
“I have spoken to DPS Director Steve McGraw and he has assured me they will not be closing any of the rural DPS office locations at this time. This will give the legislature an opportunity to address this issue during the upcoming legislative session in January,” said Texas Senator Robert Nichols, whose 19-county territory includes Liberty County.
Speculation about the office closures came from a report made by the Texas Department of Public Safety during the Texas Sunset Advisory Committee Staff Report in April. Every two years, state agencies go through a review with the Sunset Advisory Committee to validate the need for the agency. Leaders of state agencies are tasked with creating options for reducing expenses.
“DPS said, in the most drastic scenario, it (cutting expenses) would require going to a more centralized model, but there has never been any serious talk about there being any closings,” said State Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-District 18).
On Friday afternoon, Aug. 24, DPS released a statement to “clarify misconceptions in several recent news articles.” The statement reaffirms what Bailes and Nichols said — DPS “has not implemented plans to close or consolidate driver’s license offices with low demand.”
Most Liberty County residents would argue that Liberty’s office should not be included in a list of “low demand” locations, particularly since the office not only sees residents of Liberty County, but also surrounding counties. Recently demand on the Liberty office has increased with the temporary closing of the DPS office in the county annex in Cleveland, which is expected to reopen in a few weeks.
CDL testing reform needed
Bailes said that DPS should be looking at an expansion of services, not a reduction, particularly in the area of commercial driver’s license testing.
“There are issues at several locations that offer the commercial DL exam. My office has been working with school districts, even the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and private partnerships, to see how the commercial driver’s license testing is impacting them and what can be done,” Bailes said. “At a lot of driver’s licenses offices, including Liberty County, you can’t take your CDL test. Drivers are having to travel to other counties to be tested.”
Hardin resident Gary Davis, who works for a Bristol, Ind., company that transports luxury RVs, says he has lost about $20,000 in income because of the overly-complicated process of testing for a commercial driver’s license.
“I am sitting idle at the moment,” Davis said. “The CDL testing process is crazy. The state now has a third-party contractor doing the testing. There are only 25 places in the state where you can take the CDL test. I went to Hearne yesterday, 200 miles one way, and was failed on the pre-truck test.”
According to Davis, the test involves having to explain the components of the truck and their purposes during a 45-minute speech for the testing agent. Davis claims he has acquaintances who failed the test because their speech ran over the time limit by just one minute.
“Out of the seven drivers who were testing with me yesterday, none of them even got to the driving part of the test,” he said. “Everything was going good on my test and I was told to crank up the truck. When I did so, she said, ‘We’re done. There wasn’t enough information.’ They won’t even tell you what you miss.”
The demand for testing and the lack of testing locations means weeks of waiting for the next available test date.
“I have eight weeks before I can go back again,” he said. “The next appointment I could get is Oct. 1.”
Davis questions why the state changed its testing methods for CDLs.
“I don’t know the reasoning. I don’t know if they are trying to keep illegal residents out of the trucks or what, but it’s ridiculous. I have been in supervision in chemical plants for 30-plus years and I’ve taken a lot of tests, but these tests here, it’s like they are intentionally keeping you from getting your license,” Davis said.
When the Texas Legislature’s next session begins in January, Bailes hopes to hear discussion on how DPS can keep all its offices open while expanding commercial driver’s license testing. He vows to fight to keep open Liberty County’s driver’s license offices, too.
“With all the growth projected for Liberty County, that would be a drastic outcome for the citizens and I would do everything I can to stop it,” Bailes said.
Bailes can expect support for his fight from Liberty County Judge Jay Knight, who says that should DPS close its offices in Liberty County, it will create a burden on county residents who want and need the services.
“Our wish is they will favorably consider our residents and, especially, the growth that our county is now witnessing and will be apparent in the future and use the factors in their decision,” Knight said. “If anything, they should expand their services here to where they once were and not cause undue burdens and wait time to other DL offices outside of our county.”
By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org