State authorities take new steps on driver's license fees

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Under pressure, state officials have taken steps to ensure that motorists are not overcharged by private contractors when they renew a driver’s license and other services, according to an audit released on Monday.

The issue has sparked controversy because the contractors, called public tag agents, have collected up to $2.1 million per year on convenience fees alone.

The latest report by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera was requested by the state House Transportation Committee.

Rep. Karen St. Germain, chairwoman of the panel, was among those concerned about the fees.

The review released Monday is a follow-up study from one issued by Purpera last year.

That report questioned whether consumers were being charged more than the maximum $18 markup allowed by state law.

That fee is on top of the $21.50 charge to renew a driver’s license.

Louisiana’s 2.9 million motorists have typically renewed their driver’s licenses at a branch of the Office of Motor Vehicles, which operates in all 64 parishes, or online.

Public tag agents offer a third option — it began for the new services in February — and one that customers expect to be faster than visiting a state office.

Baton Rouge has 11 public tag agent locations and a 12th is about to open.

Purpera said in his report last year that the Office of Motor Vehicles should better monitor the $18 fees, and his review issued on Monday said steps are being taken to do just that.

“We have a pretty good feeling that this will get done,” Nicole Edmonson, director of performance audit services, said Monday.

The Department of Public Safety, which contracts with public tag agents, has implemented a new policy effective June 1 that requires its Compliance Review Division to monitor the convenience fees that each private contractor charges during its annual audit of each agent.

The new policy requires that five percent of the convenience fees that each agent charges be scrutinized.

In addition, contracts with public tag agents have been changed to require agents to submit records and receipts of their convenience fee charges for each transaction if requested by DPS officials.

Under the newly revised contracts, public tag agents will face penalties for violations of the agreement including limits on transactions or contract suspensions.

“That is a big step,” Edmonson said of the new contract rules. “That puts the PTAs on notice that DPS is going to do a better job,” she said.

The state has 123 public tag agents, and 30 have signed on to offer driver’s license renewals, identification card renewals and hang tags for motorists with mobility problems.

In another area, Purpera said the Office of Motor Vehicles has implemented its recommendation that new signs disclosing the $18 convenience fees be posted in public tag agent offices.

However, three of the 11 locations in Baton Rouge checked either did not have the new signs or any disclosure sign, according to Purpera’s report.

St. Germain praised the response by State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, who oversees DPS, and Stephen Campbell, commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles.

“They reacted to the public concern far beyond my expectations,” St. Germain said.

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