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Watts is hopeful regional license office comes here

State officials have released this map showing the current locations of the regional driver’s license offices that are now open.

State officials have released this map showing the current locations of the regional driver’s license offices that are now open.

There are still no promises that Letcher Countians will be able to get driver’s licenses close to home, but the state is planning two more regional offices southeastern Kentucky and Circuit Clerk Mike Watts has made the case to Gov. Andy Beshear that one of them should be here.

Watts said he managed to speak with the governor at the Kentucky Clerks College last week, telling him that county residents shouldn’t have to drive all the way to Prestonsburg or Jackson to get a driver’s license.

“He said he understood, that he knew southeastern Kentucky needed at least two additional regional offices,” Watts said. “But he didn’t promise that one of those would be here.”

Watts was one of only a handful of clerks in the Kentucky Circuit Clerk’s Association to vote against supporting legislation to remove driver’s licensing offices from the county clerks’ offices in each county. Watts canceled his membership in the association after the group endorsed the bill, which will create 12 regional driver’s licensing offices, and that will later expand the number of regional offices to 35.

The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Sal Santoro, of Florence. It passed both houses of the legislature and was signed by the Governor in March. It passed the House on a vote of 81-14, with Rep. Angie Hatton of Whitesburg and then Rep. Charles Booker of Louisville speaking against the measure. Booker and Hatton, and then-state Senator Johnny Ray Turner voted against the bill.

The state Transportation Cabinet’s official driver’s licensing web site touts the changes as “a new era in licensing with modern and convenient options that put you in the driver’s seat!”

“So instead of going to your county’s Office of the Circuit Clerk for your licensing needs, you’ll go to a Driver’s Licensing Regional Office,” the web site says.

For people in Letcher County, that means a oneto two-hour trip, rather than a quick drive to the county seat. A map shows regional offices scattered across the state, with a conspicuous gap in southeastern Kentucky. Kentuckians can apply for licenses and I.D. cards at any regional office, Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe said.

“As for additional regional offices in southeastern Kentucky, the Transportation Cabinet is working with the Finance and Administration Cabinet to see what options are available in that region. (Finance handles contracting.),” Wolfe wrote in an email in response to questions. “We will announce more locations once leases have been finalized. As for placement of offices, the Driver Licensing Regional Offices have been opened as conditions allowed. Availability of space and ability to get offices staffed have been major drivers of those decisions. There has not been a predetermined ‘west to east’ progression.”

Watts said he talked to two members of Transportation Secretary Jim Gray’s office, but again could not extract a promise of a driver’s license office in Letcher County.

“They both assured me we would get something closer than Floyd County, but neither one of them would commit to Letcher County getting an office,” Watts said.

Renewals will be possible online unless there is a change of address or name, in which case the license holder will have to go the nearest office to renew. Anyone getting a permit or license for the first time already has to go to Prestonsburg.

There are still more changes coming to the process. Beginning in 2023, drivers will be required to have an eye exam prior to renewing their licenses.

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