Significant changes could be coming from the Senate Transportation Committee including digital driver’s licenses and a new way of hiring the commissioner of the Division of Motor Vehicles, amid ongoing complaints.

The committee met on Wednesday afternoon to consider an array of changes that aim to solve the DMV’s customer-facing issues. Co-chair Sen. Michael Lazzara, R-Onslow, said each new administration blames its predecessor for a lack of progress in solving the DMV’s problems while failing to make measurable improvements during their tenure. Some previously noted complaints include a lack of available appointments at DMV offices, long wait times, and simply being told to come back on a different day. 

A proposed change would move the appointment of the DMV commissioner from the secretary of transportation, to the governor. The position would also be subject to senatorial confirmation aligned with the current process for department heads. 

“The Division of Motor Vehicles is what we believe the largest customer-facing apparatus in our state government and is consequently one of the most common sources of complaints from our constituents,” said Lazzara. “This body has made significant investments attempting to modernize DMV systems with very little success for many years. We as legislators need tools in our toolbox to provide proper oversight for this division. The largest opportunity we have for oversight over the department is an improvement approving who the governor chooses to lead this department.”

The Senate confirmation process would allow state legislators to assess qualifications and ensure the appointee is capable of working alongside the body that crafts its budget and sets relevant policy.

Some committee members disputed the move during discussion, calling it an erosion of the Secretary of Transportation’s authority. They noted that no other division-level person throughout state government is subject to senatorial advice or appointed by the governor. 

“We don’t need to expand the confirmation process,” said Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham. “We will soon be appointing everybody in the executive branch, and that’s not what separation of powers is about.”

In response to criticism, Lazzara said the lawmakers owe it to the citizens of North Carolina to have proper oversight of such a large division. 

“If there was a private sector, there would be no agency. They’d be out of business,” responded Lazzara. “So I don’t think that’s a relevant fact.” 

Amendments to House Bill 199 would authorize mobile driver’s licenses, something Sen. Vickie Sawyer, R-Mecklenburg, has pushed for as co-chair of the committee. Additional reforms include conforming with federal law on CDL licensure and odometer disclosures, implementing a statewide system for print-on-demand temporary registration plates, authorizing electronic notarization and signatures for motor vehicle transactions, and extending the duration of temporary registration plates from 30 to 60 days.

HB 199 was approved by the committee and will now go to the Senate Judiciary Committee.