Wednesday, December 9, 2015

DOT LAUNCHES INVESTIGATION IN ALABAMA OVER DMV CLOSURES

http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/09/politics/alabama-dmv-closures-voting-rights/index.html

DOT launches investigation in Alabama over DMV closures



DMV Department of Transportation Discrimination Voting AR ORIGWX_00002719
Department of Transportation launches discrimination investigation of Alabama 02:11


Story highlights

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation has just launched an investigation into Alabama
  • The case revolves around the closing of Department of Motor Vehicle offices and whether that discriminates against African-Americans
Washington (CNN)The U.S.
Department of Transportation has just 
launched an investigation into whether 
Alabama is discriminating against
African-American residents after
announcing plans to shut down or 
reduce service at 34 state drivers license 
offices.
Voting rights advocates say the move will
disenfranchise lower income, African-American voters in rural communities who
wish to vote.
    In 2014, Alabama passed a law requiring valid photo ID in order to vote at the polls.
    Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says his agency is specifically looking into
    whether the closures violate the Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which
    prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin on programs
    and activities receiving federal assistance.
    "Driver license offices offer essential services to the American people, including
    providing thousands in Alabama with a method of identification. It is critical that
    these services be free of discrimination, and serve the people of the state fairly
    and equally," Foxx said.
    On September 30, Alabama announced the closure and reduction in services at 34
    drivers licensing offices throughout the state. The Alabama Law Enforcement
    Agency has said an $11 million cut in the budget forced the closing of the DMV
    offices at which residents can obtain or renew their licenses. The state expects
    some of the needs of those who would have used such offices to be met online.
    "It is our obligation to ensure that recipients of federal funding are in compliance
    with federal laws that guarantee equal access and opportunity for all," said
    Stephanie Jones, the U.S. Department of Transportation's civil rights acting director.
    "Our concern rests in the possibility that the state's closure of driver license offices
     disproportionately constrains the ability of some residents to secure driving
    privileges, register personal and commercial vehicles, and obtain proper
    identification a critical requirement for access to essential activities such as
    opening a bank account and voting," she said.
    The agency will be requesting all documents and information that explains why
    these specific 34 DMV locations were picked for closure or reduced service "and
    why not others," Foxx said.
    DOT says it has not reached any conclusions but if it finds these closures are
    discriminatory, the agency will first allow the state to come into compliance by
    making those services available once again. If Alabama does not comply, the
    Department of Transportation says it could strip the state of millions of dollars in
    federal funding that's used towards DMV programs.
    Questioned whether stripping the state of federal funding would only further
    negatively impact the communities DOT is trying to protect Foxx said the agency
    is still gathering information "I don't want to presuppose the outcome at this point,
    we need to go and get the facts but I think that the recourse we have is fairly
    effective we've seen it work in previous cases. Hopefully we won't get there but if
    we do we will be very aggressive."
    In October, Rep. Terri Sewell, the only African-American in the state's
    congressional delegation, asked the Department of Justice to launch an
    investigation.
    The state of Alabama declined to comment on the investigation.
    It's unclear when the DOT will complete its investigation or whether it will be
    done before the November 2016 election, though Foxx said the agency is working
    to get it done as soon as possible.