The state Sunset Advisory Commission on Wednesday panned a proposal to close nearly 90 driver’s license offices across Texas — including the office on Breyfogle Road near Mission.
Lawmakers who represent western Hidalgo County opposed the plan, which would reduce the number of locations available to serve their constituents.
The controversy started when the Sunset Advisory Commission, which analyzes state government services and suggests improvements, requested the Department of Public Safety “develop and implement a plan to close inefficient driver license offices,” according to a report prepared by commission staff and published in April.
“Closing low volume offices would make more resources available for allocation to other offices where they could serve a greater number of customers and best impact customer service,” according to the report. “In implementing this recommendation, DPS should consider setting a standard for minimum distance between offices as well as a standard for minimum volume of business to keep an office open unless located in a rural area without reasonable access to other such offices.”
The Department of Public Safety prepared a plan, which the Sunset Advisory Commission reviewed on Wednesday morning.
It targeted 87 driver’s license offices, according to a list published by the Texas Association of Counties. Eight would remain open but staffed only by county employees. Another 79 would close, including the Breyfogle Road location.
While preliminary and subject to review by lawmakers, the plan quickly attracted opposition.
Many locations identified as “inefficient” served rural parts of Texas, including Brooks County and Zapata County.
“If they were to close them down, some people would have to drive 50 or 100 miles,” Muñoz said.
The state shouldn’t require people to obtain and renew photo identification — and then make the process difficult by closing driver’s license offices, said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa.
“We appropriate quite a bit of money to DPS,” Hinojosa said, adding that he didn’t think lawmakers would approve plans to close driver’s license offices.
Hinojosa said the prospect of closing driver’s license offices while simultaneously requiring voters to carry photo identification didn’t seem fair. If anything, Hinojosa said the state should consider improving access to photo identification.
The Department of Public Safety operates four driver’s license offices in Hidalgo County: Mission, McAllen, Edinburg and Weslaco.
Closing the Mission location on Breyfogle Road would divert western Hidalgo County residents to McAllen and Edinburg, where the Department of Public Safety opened a new “mega center” in October.
Muñoz said neither the Department of Public Safety nor the Sunset Advisory Commission had explained how they identified the Breyfogle Road location as “inefficient.”
“I, personally, have been there when I have been to the county offices next door,” Muñoz said. “And you see the line of people waiting.”