There seems to be a weird sense of camaraderie among those waiting in lines for license plates at the Birmingham courthouse — a fellowship of misery and boredom.
Benches and chairs line the long, florescent corridor that serves as the waiting line for the license plates at the courthouse. Walking down the long hallway, disgruntled, frustrated – and sometimes sleeping – faces occupy the chairs and stare ahead helplessly at anyone passing by who will notice and lend a sympathetic nod.
But this could soon change. A bill, HB 112, which was filed by Rep. Paul DeMarco, is up for legislation on Wednesday. The bill would allow cities in Jefferson County to issue license plates for residents, hopefully alleviating the long lines at the courthouse.
“Here’s how it came about,” DeMarco explained. “Everyone knows about the long lines at the courthouse. There are 600,000 residents in Jefferson County and only three locations where they can get car tags.”
DeMarco calls it the “common sense solution.” After speaking with different municipalities about the issue, he said that he realized there was a need for this in Jefferson County.
“Other places around the county have license offices in strip malls and shopping centers, so trying to get more places like this opened just makes sense,” DeMarco said. “The bill would not allow cities to issue tags for cars that have not yet been registered with the state, but the cities would be able to renew tags for people in Jefferson County.”
With so many residents in Jefferson County and so few locations to renew tags, disgruntled car owners are well aware of the bottleneck that occurs at the tag offices. DeMarco hopes that by being able to open more locations, it would disperse the lines and increase efficiency at the courthouse.
“If seven cities sign up to do it, that’s 10 locations that people can get tags at instead of just the three locations we have now,” DeMarco said.
Not all cities have the resources to take on an endeavor like this, however. Jane Hicks, Fultondale’s city clerk explained, “I mean, I’m not really sure how we could. We don’t really have the funds or the personnel to take that on. So not only could that present a problem with personnel, but also with the software necessary.”
But DeMarco says that HB 112 includes provisions for cities to receive up to five dollars for every tag issued, a rate that is higher than what Jefferson County currently gets for the tags issued. Jefferson County Commissioner Sandra Little Brown believes Jefferson County should be included in this provision.
“I just want to make sure Jefferson County is part of that bill,” Brown said. “These cities are going to get five dollars for every tag they issue. Right now, we’re only getting $1.50. If we got that same deal, we could open more lines and get more people back to work. We could also open up some more of the satellite locations and alleviate some of the long lines.”
Brown contends that the lines at the courthouse are so long because of the lack of funding necessary to open more windows. She is hoping to get that section of the bill changed. “I would like to ask legislatures to amend that part of the bill and include Jefferson County. It would be unfair for us not to be. We’re working on changing that right now,” Brown said.
Hicks agrees with Brown’s notion that simply adding locations for people to get their tags renewed does not address the real problem. “I still think that having a central hub is a good idea as well, but having cities issue their own plates doesn’t really address the problem in Jefferson County,” Hicks said. “The reason they have such long lines is due to shortages in their funding, which is the same problem some cities would run into.
Hicks said that the bill could help elderly residents in Jefferson County, however. “I also think it is a good thing because I know a lot of senior citizens don’t want to stand in line for hours down at the courthouse, so in that regard, it would be beneficial,” Hicks said.
DeMarco explained that the bill is not a mandate. If a city does not have the resources to feasibly operate a license office, then they are not required to. “If a city can’t do it, or can’t afford it, that’s fine. But if a few cities can – and I’ve talked to several mayors who are on board – then that will help alleviate those lines at the courthouse,” DeMarco said.
“I spoke with the Mayor of Trussville about it as well. He said they polled the city and the results came back 99-1 saying ‘Yes, we want it,’” DeMarco said.
Trussville City Clerk Lynn Porter corroborates DeMarco’s claim about the public polling in Trussville and the overwhelming majority of residents who are in favor of a local license office. “The mayor sent out a questionnaire and one of the questions on there was, ‘Would you like to see a local office that could issue tags?’ The majority said, ‘Yes, we would like that,’” Porter explained.
But Porter followed by saying that the city council has not made a decision on whether or not Trussville would want to issue plates to residents.
DeMarco says that there is bipartisan support for the bill, and if all goes according to plan, the bill will be up for legislation on Jan. 22. DeMarco hopes the bill will, with any luck, help to remove the benches and chairs that line the long hallway at the courthouse.