CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – North Carolina’s legislative leaders signaled Wednesday that lawmakers would retroactively ease deadlines and regulations surrounding the state’s motor vehicle laws.
WBTV asked spokesmen for both Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) about the changes as drivers continued to call the WBTV Investigates tip line asking why they still had to get their vehicles inspected to renew their registration and, in some cases, visit DMV offices to renew their driver’s license.
A DMV spokesman said the agency didn’t have the ability to suspend the deadlines on its own.
“Neither the Governor or the DMV have the legal authority to extend expiration dates or change the registration renewal process, which includes an inspection. Being state law, that is something the General Assembly can do, or provide that authority,” DMV spokesman Steve Abbott said in an email.
“There has been discussion with legislators regarding those issues and we have asked it to consider such action when it meets late this month, ideally granting the DMV commissioner the authority to extend expiration deadlines for various privileges and requirements in areas of driver licenses, vehicle inspections, station licenses, etc. and to waive fines and fees - during a declared emergency,” Abbott continued.
Cooper reiterated that point at a press conference with reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
Earlier that day, Berger and Moore issued a statement that said the legislature would address the issue when it convened for its regularly scheduled session at the end of April.
“DMV regulations are a particularly pressing matter that we have worked daily for several weeks on a bipartisan basis to resolve,” the statement said.
“We support passage of legislation when the General Assembly reconvenes to retroactively extend vehicle inspection deadlines,” the statement continued. “Until such legislation passes, we support bureaucratic flexibility on compliance with the existing deadlines.”
The statement also pointed to efforts by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety and the State Highway Patrol to not enforce DMV regulations.
In response to a follow up question from a reporter, a spokesman for Berger said the legislative leaders hoped other law enforcement agencies would follow the leaders’ statement on its intent to change the laws in considering whether to enforce DMV regulations.
But the statement issued by Berger and Moore said any legislation passed later this month would be retroactive.
“This shared commitment by the legislative and executive branches provides North Carolinians’ certainty that the state government will provide this flexibility they need now and act to retroactively alleviate DMV deadlines despite the current law temporarily in place,” the statement said.
DMV employees concerned for safety while being forced to work
As lawmakers and DMV leaders iron out legislation to retroactively ease motor vehicle regulations, employees at the agency have voiced concerns over having to come to work.
Multiple DMV employees contacted WBTV with concerns that they were being made to still show up in-person to jobs that required interacting with the public.
Documents obtained by WBTV show DMV leaders first told on March 18 employees they could use state emergency leave to stay home if they had underlying medical conditions that would put them at greater risk of medical complications if they contracted COVID-19.
But, the documents show, that directive was reversed a week later, on March 25.
A second letter from DMV leadership said many of the agency’s employees were essential and were required to report to work the next day, even if they had medical conditions that would place them at greater risk.
The letter said employees could continue to stay out of work if they used their personal leave time.
Late last week, DMV employees received a third letter telling them that they were essential and requested they sign the letter and return it to their supervisor.
None of the employees that called WBTV would speak on the record out of fear of being punished for talking to a reporter.
But Ardis Watkins, who heads the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said her agency is receiving multiple calls from worried DMV employees every hour.
“It’s dangerous to the public and it’s dangerous to the DMV employees,” Watkins said. “And it makes no sense because we could avoid this to a large degree.”
Watkins pointed out that DMV examiners’ jobs involve working in offices nearby other colleagues and in close proximity to customers. Examiners must get in people’s vehicles to give road tests.
“I don’t know if DMV is taking the threat seriously enough in their head, in their thought process but in their actions, it doesn’t appear that DMV does take this seriously,” Watkins said.
Abbott, the DMV spokesman, said agency leadership had taken steps to protect employees and the public since the pandemic’s outbreak.
“There are DMV positions that lend themselves to teleworking or working remotely. But there are also positions that require someone to be in the office and/or to interact in person with customers, and don’t allow for teleworking,” Abbott said. “So, each employee’s situation is considered on an individual basis and the employee must work with his or her manager to determine what works best for both.”
Abbott said most DMV services can now be accessed online but people who must come into a DMV office to renew their license or conduct other business must schedule an appointment in advance.
Abbott also said the multiple letters regarding which employees could and could not use the state’s emergency leave time during the pandemic was because of confusion surrounding the regulations.
“When the State of Emergency was issued, there seems to have been some confusion about how that was to be implemented – again, we have never dealt with anything like this before so it was all new,” he said.
“Each employee’s situation is considered on an individual basis and the employee must work with his or her manager to determine what works best for both,” Abbott continued, without addressing the letter sent March 30th requiring each employee to acknowledge they were essential and would continue reporting to work.