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Military members get help with Arkansas driver’s licenses

SSgt. Dynesha Smith (left), Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state Rep. Justin Boyd at the Arkansas State Capitol after HB 1147 was signed Feb. 20, 2017. The new law amends state law to extend the expiration date for a driver's license belonging to a member of the military.

COURTESY PHOTO/TIMES RECORD

By THOMAS SACCENTE | Times Record, Fort Smith, Ark. (Tribune News Service) | Published: March 19, 2017

A new piece of legislation will provide a helping hand for active duty military members with Arkansas driver's licenses, thanks in part to a native of Fort Smith.

The new law amends state law to extend the expiration date for a driver's license belonging to a member of the military. The original proposal for the bill came from SSgt. Dynesha Smith, a personnel section technician for the 332nd Recruiting Squadron for the Air Force in Nashville, Tenn.

Smith, a native of Fort Smith, said she began working on it in October after her own driver's license expired.

"I was stationed in Little Rock at Little Rock Air Force Base, and I was getting ready to actually move, and my driver's license was expired," Smith said. "And I noticed that other military members, their driver's license in other states ... didn't expire until their (date of separation), so other states had did it, so I ... did my research and looked to see what other states actually had this, and I noticed that Arkansas didn't."

Smith said she discussed the issue with her mother, Sharon Brooks, Sebastian County's clerk/recorder. According to Brooks, she encouraged Smith to get in contact with Arkansas state Rep. Justin Boyd, R-Fort Smith.

"... She saw a need for the soldiers, and I mentioned to her, 'Why don't you call your state representative?'" Brooks said. "At that time, I contacted Justin Boyd, and made mention to him what she had mentioned to me regarding the need for ID, and at that point, I just put her in contact with him, and from there, it took off."

When it becomes effective in November, a driver's license issued by the state to a military member will not expire while he or she is not residing in Arkansas if they apply for an official extension of the expiration date as required by the Office of Driver Services, unless the license is suspended, canceled or revoked, according to a copy of the bill on the Arkansas House of Representatives website.

The bill also states a driver's license with an authorized, extended expiration date will remain valid until 60 days after the military member separates or is honorably discharged from active duty military service. In addition, a military member in this case means an active duty member of the Air National Guard, Army National Guard or a branch of or reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces.

The bill, which became Act 131, had its primary sponsor in Boyd, who said it offered an opportunity to support members of the military.

"... (I)f I'm keeping Arkansas as my home state, and I have an Arkansas driver's license, that's the one I'm carrying all around the world with me, and say I get stationed in Iraq," Boyd said. "Well, it gives me the opportunity to file for an extension, so that while I'm over in Iraq and there's not a way to renew that, then I will have filed for an extension.

"It's a way to match ourselves with surrounding states that also allow exemptions or lengthened expiration dates, if you will, on their driver's license. ..."

In addition to offering two options for policy change in regard to the expiration date on military members' driver's licenses, Smith's proposal highlighted certain difficulties members had to face because the date could not be extended.

"Being an active duty military member in my third enlistment, we have countless things we are responsible for while serving in the armed forces," Smith stated. "Moving approximately every two to four years makes it extremely difficult to renew your driver's license. In some cases, members are deployed or overseas, which makes it very difficult to complete actions stateside."

Smith said this potentially could cause trouble for military members, who would have to drive with an expired driver's license until their new license arrived in the mail or they go through the process of applying in another state. Examples of states that allow active duty personnel who are from there an exemption in which their driver's license does not expire until they discharged or separated include Texas, California, Louisiana and Tennessee, according to the proposal.

Boyd said after discussing Smith's proposal with her, he went through the process of drafting HB 1147.

"(The proposal) sounded like a great idea," Boyd said. "Of course, like with any legislation you want to research it and understand, so I worked with the Bureau of Legislative Research, and they provided me with a list of what some other states were doing, and gave me some ideas. From there, I worked with our drafting attorney, and we drafted a bill that would accomplish that."

The Arkansas House of Representatives website states HB 1147 was filed Jan. 10. It passed the House of Representatives Jan. 26, and passed the Arkansas State Senate Feb. 2, after which it was transmitted to Hutchinson's office. Boyd said the Senate sponsor for HB 1147 was Sen. Trent Garner.

The website states notification that HB 1147 became Act 131 took place Feb. 7.

"It was a great feeling (when the bill was passed and approved) because it lets you know that you can actually work through your government if you have an issue," Smith said.

Brooks said she felt proud that Smith was taking the initiative to try to help her fellow military members.

Boyd said he supported HB 1147 because it was something Arkansas could do as a state to make active duty military members' lives easier.

"I mean, they might be overseas fighting for our freedom, and then they've got an expired driver's license," Boyd said. "This is a small thing that we, as the state of Arkansas, can get together and send that message that we do care and we appreciate the sacrifices that our active duty military are making for our nation, and so, it was an easy decision for me to decide to do that."

©2017 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)
Visit Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.) at www.swtimes.com
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