As the deadline looms on the special session of the Minnesota Legislature, Wright County Commissioner Darek Vetsch will be in St. Paul today (June 18) to provide testimony on a bill that has become of significance to anyone with children nearing the age of 16.
Vetsch will testify on House File 3300, which is sponsored by Rep. Eric Lucero, dealing with Department of Motor Vehicle testing stations. For years, Wright County residents could take written tests and driving tests at the testing station in Buffalo, but, when the Department of Public Safety reopened testing stations last month, they only opened 14 of them – in Anoka, Arden Hills, Bemidji, Detroit Lakes, Duluth, Eagan, Grand Rapids, Mankato, Marshall, Plymouth, Rochester, St. Cloud, St. Paul and Willmar.
Vetsch said this isn’t just a Wright County problem, but his immediate focus is on the citizens of Wright County.
“I’m testifying related to the closure of the Buffalo DMV Testing Facility,” Vetsch said. “What I will be asking is that either the state appropriates more funds to get these places open and open more hours or you need to delegate the authority to counties so we can administer road testing and can get appointments in a reasonable time and close to home.”
In Wright County, the closest testing facilities that are open are, depending on where you live, either Plymouth or St. Cloud and the backlog of appointments for driver’s tests have people going a further distance to get an appointment sooner.
“There is frustration from our citizens that people are driving hours to get an appointment because sometimes the closest is two months and you might have to go to Mankato to get it because the closest appointment nearby might be four months from now,” Vetsch said.
Vetsch said driver testing facilities have been in need of reform for years. Most facilities outside of large metro areas were only open two or three days a week and many of the scheduled tests were from people outside the county because testing facilities in the Twin Cities metro were so full that people would make the drive greater distances to get an appointment.
Throw in a global pandemic and a bad situation was made markedly worse.
“This was a problem long before COVID-19 came around and everyone involved in it knows that,” Vetsch said. “They finally have reopened in the last month, but they only opened a fraction of the testing facilities that were open before COVID-19. Now there are people that are having to drive enormous distances to get an appointment and you’re still talking months out.”
Vetsch said as bad as things are in Wright County, it’s even worse in more remote areas of the state. They’re forced to find a testing station that has an opening, even if it means a long drive that could net no positive result.
“With two-thirds of the facilities closed, you’re asking someone from Roseau to travel three hours each way to get the test,” Vetsch said. “To make matters even worse, there are people driving an hour or more each way to get a written test and, because there is so much volume, when they get there, they find out they isn’t time for them to take the written test – you can’t make an appointment for a written test. There are so many flaws in this system that it’s ridiculous what we’re asking our citizens to deal with.”
The Department of Public Safety has cited safety concerns and an enormous backlog as the reason for a limited opening of testing stations and Vetsch isn’t convinced his testimony will sway legislators when they address the issue today. But, he feels obligated to get more eyes on the issue and provide a better understanding of how bad things are and the need for reform of the system.
“If nothing else, it’s to bring attention to the Department of Public Safety and how horribly the driver testing program has failed Minnesotans,” Vetsch said. “It was bad before COVID-19. Really bad. With COVID-19, a bad situation has gotten worse. They are seriously impairing citizens with these plans and I think we should have a model that has a little more equity as it deals with rural Minnesota.”
To see House File 3300, click on the following link: