Two skeptical Cabinet members urged caution Tuesday on a controversial state plan to mail driver’s licenses to motorists like other states do, rather than issuing them over the counter the way Florida does now.
Under the proposal, motorists could wait up to two weeks to get their licenses in the mail.
As state officials met in this historic city in the week of its 450th birthday, Cabinet members recalled more recent history — and its effect on millions of Floridians who get or renew their licenses every year.
The two officials noted how five years ago the state handed the job of issuing driver licenses to elected county tax collectors, and it seems to be working.
“These local players have been the delivery channel,” Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said after a Cabinet meeting. “My wife says, ‘My license expired. I want it solved today.’ So the local players, the tax collectors, did the right thing by saying, ‘Time out.’ ”
Some tax collectors are trying to kill a plan, still in its early stages, under which the state and a private vendor would manage the issuance of new and renewed licenses and photo IDs to 5 million Floridians every year. The state already handles that in Miami-Dade, Broward and Volusia counties, which don’t have tax collectors.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a likely candidate for governor in 2018, said no change should be considered without the tax collectors’ enthusiastic support.
“It is doomed to fail if it doesn’t have the tax collectors’ buy-in,” said Putnam, reacting to a Herald/Times report Tuesday on the proposed change.
Putnam knows first-hand the role tax collectors play in providing services. His agency works with tax collectors in issuing concealed weapons licenses all over the state.
“Most of them have branch offices, so they’re close to the people,” Putnam said. “They’re a valuable resource for offering any number of services … But 35 states do have a different way of doing it, so it’s not to say we shouldn’t explore it.”
Terry Rhodes, executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, has emphasized that no decision has been made to switch to a system known as central issuance.
Rhodes said any change is subject to tax collectors’ approval. She dispatched her top driver’s license expert, Carl Ford, to meet with tax collectors at their conference in Orlando Tuesday, where opposition intensified.
“I can’t support this,” said Hillsborough Tax Collector Doug Belden. “ My reputation is based on customer service. I’m not going to do anything to adversely affect that.”
Rhodes promised to work “hand in hand” with tax collectors and her agency to develop a joint recommendation to Gov. Rick Scott and the three Cabinet members, who oversee the highway safety agency.
Rhodes made a brief appearance at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, but the subject of driver’s licenses didn’t come up.
The concept is already highly controversial. In a state where people complain of waiting an hour to get a new license, a two-week delay might seem like an eternity.
Brevard Tax Collector Lisa Cullen says it’s a potential “disaster” if not executed perfectly.
Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, the proposal’s loudest critic, calls it a bad idea.
“State of Florida, just leave Pasco alone,” Fasano said.
Pinellas Tax Collector Diane Nelson says it’s a good idea because Florida’s epidemic of identity theft is the result of the ease with which people can duplicate or create fake licenses.
State officials say most states already use a so-called central issuance system because it allows easier security features to cards to reduce fraud. New polycarbonate cards can’t be produced on machines in tax collectors’ offices, Rhodes’ agency said.
MorphoTrust USA, a Massachusetts company, has been under contract to Florida since 2002 to provide equipment that prints driver’s licenses.
It receives a fee for every card produced, and earned $9.7 million in Florida last year, the highway agency said.
If the state adopts a central issuance model, people will wait longer for their permanent licenses and MorphoTrust USA stands to make more money.
But it would have to complete with other vendors through a competitive selection process.