OKLAHOMA CITY — State officials plan to open two driver’s license megacenters this summer in an effort to help resolve a massive backlog of Oklahomans trying to get their licenses updated or renewed.
Lawmakers have appropriated $6.6 million to set up megacenters in Oklahoma City and Tulsa in early to mid-summer. The centers, which will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, will be staffed by temporary employees and will remain open through the end of year.
State officials said they haven’t settled on a final location for the facilities, but said the location in Oklahoma City would open first. Each location will have 20 computer systems capable of issuing federally compliant Real IDs, licenses that aren’t federally compliant, and ID cards and commercial driver’s licenses without Hazmat endorsements.
“It is our hope through Oklahoma City and Tulsa megacenters to be able to address the backlog need to the tune of about 300,000 Oklahoma residents and citizens that are seeking Real ID,” said state Sen. Chuck Hall, R-Perry. “So that should get us a real good start, get us going and get us back on the right track again.”
Many Oklahomans are facing monthslong waits to access driver’s license services. At the Department of Public Safety on Wednesday, there was at least a 60-day wait for an appointment. Tag agencies across the state have reported even longer waits to secure an appointment.
The federally compliant Real ID licenses will be required in May 2023 to enter military bases or federal facilities or to fly domestically. The current state identification won’t stand up to the federal requirements adopted more than a decade ago.
Oklahoma was one of the final states to start issuing Real ID-compliant licenses last year. It takes nearly 30 minutes to apply for a federally compliant license.
Hall said the lengthy delays are a combination of COVID-19 and the state’s inability to provide enough Real ID systems, software and computers to handle the spike in demand. He also noted that lawmakers cut the Department of Public Safety’s budget last year. The Department of Public Safety reported that it was not able to fill about 28 driver’s license examiner positions due to the reduced state appropriations.
Hall said lawmakers restored those budget cuts this year, which will allow the agency to hire additional employees to issue licenses and do driving exams.
State Rep. Dell Kerbs, R-Shawnee, said by locating the megacenters in metro areas, the plan is to free up rural tag agencies to serve rural residents. He said Oklahomans are currently scheduling appointments with tag agencies more than two hours away from where they live in order to obtain their licenses.
For tag agencies that have the capacity and interest in multiple Real ID computer systems, lawmakers are expediting additional equipment to also help address the backlog, Kerbs said.
“We would have had them sooner, had we not experienced the COVID situation,” Hall said. “All of us have experienced backlogs related to getting things that we need. We anticipate that we will have those units here very shortly, and we’ll start to get those out to the tag agents as quickly as possible.”
Lawmakers have also agreed to increase a behind-the-scenes fee that tag agents receive in an effort to incentivize the private businesses to issue more Real IDs. Those take considerably longer than noncompliant licenses.
Oklahomans will have the choice to purchase an 8-year driver’s license option — at double the price of the current 4-year option — in a bid to spread out renewals.
Oklahoma currently offers two license types — one that is federally compliant and another that is not.
Oklahomans have the option to renew their licenses online if they want to obtain a license that is not federally compliant.
But Kerbs said lawmakers are also working to resolve a backlog in online renewals of the noncompliant licenses. He said the state is facing a “technical glitch” or “challenge” interfacing the old noncompliant system with the new system.
A spokeswoman for DPS said Wednesday that the agency is now two months behind in processing online driver’s license renewals.
Kerbs said lawmakers’ interim solution is to send tag agents to DPS’ facility and have them work specifically on the statewide backlog in exchange for a credit toward their agency.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.