Proposal to force the return of DMV walk-ins introduced amid COVID resurgence

Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – A push to force the return of walk-in appointments at the Department of Motor Vehicles is on the table in the Virginia General Assembly. 

On Tuesday, lawmakers got their first look at dozens of proposed changes to a multi-billion dollar spending package involving federal coronavirus relief funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

One amendment from state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) would force all of the state’s DMV Customer Service Centers to fully reopen for in-person services and transactions as were provided before the pandemic started.

If approved, this would be required within 30 days after Gov. Ralph Northam signs the budget bill.

“Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, the bottom line is DMV is a key interface with the public and having it by appointment only is unacceptable. We need to reopen it,” Petersen said in an interview on Tuesday.

“Every other retail business in Virginia is pretty much back to normal. Now you can have additional protections, sure. But at the end of the day, we have to provide the customer service. Lord knows we are spending money for it,” Petersen continued.

The proposal comes as health officials are predicting a surge in infections through the fall, and local governments and businesses are revisiting mask guidance.

To date, the DMV hasn’t announced plans to resume walk-ins, though they have phased in additional appointments.

In a previous interview with 8News, DMV Commissioner Richard Holcomb argued the appointment-only system has been more efficient for staff and customers than the unpredictable crowds of the past.

“The appointment system is working extremely well. 78% of customers like it, we’re doing more transactions than we did before, and quite frankly we keep migrating more and more transactions to the internet to make it more convenient,” Holcomb said back in May. 

Petersen’s amendment and dozens of others are expected to be considered by the state Senate on Wednesday. If it passes, it will still need to win approval in the House of Delegates.

In an email on Tuesday evening, DMV Spokesperson Jessica Cowardin said, with coronavirus variants emerging, the agency believes the appointment system is the appropriate course of action. She said availability will continue to increase as more staff is hired and trained. She said that process is still ongoing.

“It would be inappropriate for DMV to discuss legislation currently pending before the General Assembly,” Cowardin added.

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