Missouri Senate votes to defund driver’s license bureau

Missouri residents could be unable to get driver’s licenses if a funding cut passed Monday by the Missouri Senate were to ultimately become law.

The elimination of funding for Missouri’s driver’s license bureau was perhaps the most dramatic proposal in a Senate budget plan full of reductions intended to grab the attention of executive branch officials accused by some senators of being uncooperative or less than forthcoming when describing how they spend state money.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, the architect of many of those message-sending cuts, said he was seeking leverage over state officials as he leads a Senate delegation that will meet with House members in the coming weeks to negotiate a final version of the 2014 budget.

But other senators wondered about the effect if the proposed cuts actually become law.

If the entire $3.5 million allotment for the Motor Vehicle and Driver Licensing Division ultimately is eliminated: “They will not be able to issue any driver’s licenses,” Schaefer, a Columbia Republican, acknowledged.

Other funding cuts target the administration in the Department of Revenue, which oversees the licensing bureau, the Department of Public Safety and the computer section of the state Office of Administration – all of which have drawn Republican ire for their roles in collecting and distributing information about concealed gun permit holders.

Republican lawmakers have asserted that people’s privacy rights have been violated by a new Department of Revenue policy intended to cut down on fraud. The procedure called for licensing clerks to make electronic copies of people’s personal documents such as birth certificates and concealed gun permits. Nixon recently ordered an end to the copying of concealed gun permits, but that has not quelled Republican frustrations.

As part of an inquiry into the new licensing procedures by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Missouri State Highway Patrol recently said it had twice obtained a list of people holding concealed gun permits and provided the information to a disability fraud investigator in the U.S. Social Security Administration.

The patrol got the comprehensive list with the help of the state’s computing division, which extracted data kept by the Department of Revenue as part of its responsibility for issuing photo identification cards to concealed gun permit holders.

The Social Security Administration has said it was unable to read the computer disks of information and so destroyed them.

The Senate budget plan would eliminate all 37 full-time employee positions in the driver’s license division while also cutting $7 million from the Revenue Department’s administration, $9 million from the computer technology division and $20 million from the administration of the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Highway Patrol.

Several senators expressed concerns about the sweeping nature of the cuts.

“I want to make sure we’re not affecting people who basically caught friendly fire who didn’t do anything wrong,” said Sen. Ryan McKenna, a Democrat from Crystal City.

Other proposed Senate budget cuts had nothing to do with the controversy involving driver’s licenses and concealed gun permits.

For example, the budget bill for the Department of Natural Resources reduces funding for regional solid waste management districts.

Schaefer said his intent is to try to force “reform” of the districts, which he contends are too plentiful and spend too much of their money on administration. Some Democratic and Republican senators objected, saying the districts had an important role in encouraging recycling.

Senators were debating and passing the state’s proposed $24.7 billion budget in 13 separate funding bills. Legislators have until early May to agree on a final version to send to Gov. Jay Nixon.

Like the House version passed previously, the Senate budget omits the more than $900 million of federal funds that Nixon had sought to expand eligibility for Medicaid health care coverage to lower-income adults. The Senate and House versions have only slight differences on the amount of funding for public K-12 school districts. Both chambers have essentially agreed with Nixon to boost the state’s $3 billion basic aid pool for public schools by about $65 million.