MADISON (AP) - After being stung with criticism for their original plan to close 16 motor vehicle offices, Gov. Scott Walker's administration shifted into reverse on Thursday and said it will keep all of them open under a reorganization plan.
Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said Thursday that while the new plan is more expensive, he believes the best overall course is to expand services.
"We think this is going to make life a lot easier for people who are going to get a driver's license," Gottlieb said. He did not know how much more expensive the new approach of not closing any offices would be. The state budget allotted $10 million over the next two years for the expansion.
Gottlieb said the department decided not to close any offices after listening to concerns raised by Democratic state Rep. Andy Jorgensen of Fort Atkinson and others who were shown the preliminary plan last month that called for closing 16 offices at the same time hours were expanded elsewhere.
Jorgensen, who was upset about a planned closing of a service center in Fort Atkinson, complained that the department appeared to be targeting offices for closure in areas represented by Democrats.
Gottlieb said politics had nothing to do with the department's decisions.
"There was absolutely no political component to that process," he said.
Jorgensen issued a statement saying he still believed the initial decisions were politically motivated to target Democratic voters, but he was pleased the department reversed course.
"We made them back down," Jorgensen said.
The new plan will add four new DMV offices in Viroqua, Alma, Fall Creek and Keshena and expand the number of hours all offices are open by 620 hours weekly or 32,000 more a year. The additions mean there will be 92 DMV offices across the state.
The changes were made in order to comply with mandates under the recently passed state budget requiring expanded DMV office hours statewide to be in compliance with the new law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.
The budget requires that DMV driver license and ID card services be offered in all 72 counties at least 20 hours a week. Currently, only 30 counties have offices that meet that 20-hour requirement.
Gottlieb said the plan "absolutely, unquestionably" meets the requirements under the budget.
Under the photo ID law that takes effect next year, voters will have to present a driver's license, state ID, passport, military ID, naturalization papers or tribal ID in order to vote. College students could vote with an ID from their school as long as it has their signature and an expiration date that falls within two years of the card's issuance.
Critics of that new requirement have said it would be unconstitutional if courts determined voters couldn't easily access DMV centers where they can obtain the ID cards required in order to vote. Walker has said he believes the law is constitutional and will survive any legal challenge.
The expanded DMV hours and new offices are expected to be in place by the end of January, Gottlieb said.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Area road crews are ready to get out and salt the roadways. However, they say, that can't be doing that Wednesday night.
Oneida Casino officials say they're not playing games when it comes to giving patrons what they want. Leaders detailed changes coming as a part of the casino's multi-million dollar renovation and expansion.
Green Bay Metro Fire Department crews are taking advantage of the closed Leo Frigo Bridge to get some training in Wednesday.
A panel of experts tasked with reviewing Outagamie County's response to a series of tornadoes that hit the county in August revealed its findings Wednesday.
The decision for whether or not Walmart can continue to investigate locating a store in Green Bay's Broadway District is now up to the city's redevelopment authority.
Explorers who removed a wooden slab from Lake Michigan this summer are taking an unusual step to determine whether it could have come from Le Griffon, a long-lost vessel from the 17th century.