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04 March 2010

Nodler: Locally Run Fee Offices to Better Serve the Public

Getting or renewing your driver’s license or vehicle registration is a pretty routine process, but it is an important one. Missouri’s 183 local license fee offices are currently run by private individuals. Appointed by the governor, they must follow state regulations and remain accountable to the Missouri Department of Revenue. Allowing these offices to be run privately means these offices have expanded hours, improved efficiency and saved taxpayer dollars.

For decades, Missouri governors awarded fee offices as rewards for political patronage. In 2008, then-Gov. Blunt began seeking competitive bids on some fee offices. This process was continued by Gov. Nixon when he took office. Last year, we passed a law to formalize a competitive bidding process as the method for awarding fee office contracts. The legislation, which was signed into law this summer, also requires preference for bids to be given to non-profit organizations. The priority of the individuals that run these offices should be serving the public, not personal gain.

The new law formalizing the bidding process began removing the political bias that has plagued the fee office system, but allegations of favoritism continue throughout the state. This is why I introduced Senate Bill 1018, which would give priority to bids from non-profit organizations whose primary administrative office is located in the same county, legislative district, or senatorial district as the fee office. Even though the current process requires fee office contracts to be bid out, it does not ensure that the dollars generated from running a fee office stay in the community. My bill would ensure that this is the case in our state.

One particular instance that I find troubling is the case of the non-profit, Alternative Opportunities. This Springfield-based organization has attracted a lot of attention after landing contracts to operate multiple fee offices throughout the state. These locations are not in a concentrated area, ranging from Joplin to St. Louis, and include some of the most lucrative fee office locations in the state. With SB 1081, one organization would not be able to take over the operation of multiple offices because preference would be given to local non-profit bidders. The goal of our fee office system is not to have license offices run by one mega-entity, but to have efficiently run offices to serve the public.
Senate Bill 1081 would bring an end to the final remnants of the patronage system and ensure that these jobs are awarded to those who deserve them and can provide quality service in our local communities. This bill is reasonable, common-sense reform, and I will keep you aware of its progress as the session moves forward.

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