A Mississippi Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing on Department of Public Safety funding Wednesday morphed into a discussion of excessive wait times for driver’s license renewal.
State Sen. Brice Wiggins (R-Pascagoula) criticized the DPS, represented by Commissioner Marshall Fisher, for having four-hour plus wait times for driver’s license renewals.
“The issue is simple things could be done,” Wiggins said. “Four hour wait times are flat-out unacceptable for the citizens of Mississippi. Something has to change. I’ve heard of people coming in to say they just need to change their address and they’re told come back in six hours.”
Wiggins also said that he’d support more appropriations for DPS to help reduce wait times and suggested a phone, but also said it was more than just about money. He said that the department should enact a phone-based or online appointment system to lower wait times.
Fisher told Wiggins and the subcommittee that the examiners, who make around $21,000 annually, need a pay hike. He also said he’d like to have more of the driver’s license services online.
Fisher has asked the subcommittee for a $48.75 million increase in his agency’s budget that would include a new trooper school, more officers for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, and more medical examiners for the state crime lab. This increase would also cover added employer contributions to the state’s defined benefit pension system.
Fisher also asked for his agency to be released from the purview of the Mississippi Personnel Board and the Employee Appeals Board. Under state law, a bill would have to be drafted to provide DPS with an exception.
During his briefing, Fisher said the number of state troopers is critically low and the agency needs 60 more troopers. According to his numbers, there are 488 troopers on the force at present, but of those, 160 have enough service time to retire this year.
State law authorizes a force of 650 troopers.
Fifty seven troopers were added to the force after a trooper school graduated last year, while up to 54 in the present class could join the force on May 1.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice statistics, the national average is 20 troopers per 100,000 residents. Using Fisher’s numbers on troopers, the state has 17 per 100,000 residents.
Fisher also said the autopsy workload for the state’s two medical examiners is too high and that the Medical Examiner’s Office needs seven additional personnel, including two new examiners. He said the two examiners performed 1,250 autopsies last year, which is far more than 250 per examiner recommended by the National Association of Medical Examiners.