Some of Missouri’s license offices are in jeopardy of closing unless their service fees are increased this year. The 174 offices employ about 1,700 Missourians who provide services like licensing vehicles, issuing licenses, and transferring vehicle titles. The fees are the offices’ only source of income for the state services they do.

Representative Jeff Knight (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Last Wednesday, the Missouri House of Representatives gave initial approval to a measure sponsored by Rep. Jeff Knight, R-Lebanon. House Bill 584 would increase the fees for vehicle licenses, operators’ licenses and vehicle title transfers by $2.50, and on biennial license renewals by $5. Knight says the fees have not been changed since 1999.

“To put it in perspective, in 1999, a loaded-up Dodge pickup cost $23,000. The same vehicle today? Over $60,000,” Knight said in a committee hearing about the bill.

With the state’s minimum wage to increase, the surge in expenses the offices will incur for Real IDs and office expense increases, many of them don’t plan to rebid. Crystal Webster, the director of the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks, says her office cannot afford to rebid its contract.

“We got in this to subsidize our mission, right? And so now we would be subsidizing the constituents of Missouri as they come into tag and renew their vehicles and do their driver’s license transactions,” she said during a committee hearing.

Supporters of Knight’s bill presented the House Committee on General Laws with a list of 46 items they say the Department of Revenue used to supply that license offices now must pay for – things ranging from pens and pamphlets that offices must now print themselves to fax machines and $5,000 in video surveillance equipment.

“In just one instance, a Gladstone office uses 10 cases of paper per week at $30 per case. The state requires that they use a specific Lexmark laser printer with the cost of $1,000 a month in toner,” said Knight.

Another anticipated hardship from the closure of any license offices is the distance will be greater for some Missourians to travel to get such services. Knight says many older Missourians will make those long drives because they can’t or won’t do their business online.

One more favorable vote would send the legislation to the Senate.