Clerk blasts N.Y. fee for new veterans' licenses

By JOE MAHONEY | The Daily Star, Oneonta, N.Y. | Published: October 17, 2013

COOPERSTOWN — Otsego County Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Department of Motor Vehicles to immediately suspend a $12.50 fee being charged for new veteran status driver’s licenses and other documents.

Sinnott Gardner said state officials took a good idea — allowing eligible drivers to have their veteran status on their licenses — and made it a bad one by reaching into the pockets of those who served in the military.

“They totally blew it by charging our veterans $12.50 for this honor,” she said.

Two weeks ago, Cuomo issued a press release extolling the fact that the DMV is allowing honorably discharged veterans to have their status placed on licenses and other DMV-issued photo documents.

The Oct. 3 release made no mention of the fact that veterans will have to cough up $12.50 to get the veteran status on their licenses.

In the press release, Cuomo stated, “The men and women of the armed forces have sacrificed so much for our state and nation, and it is only appropriate that we do everything we can to support them.” He said the new designation on licenses will make it easier for veterans to get benefits to which they are entitled.

Sinnott Gardner said some veterans showing up at the county-operated Motor Vehicle offices located in Cooperstown and Oneonta were very disappointed to learn that they had to fork over money to the state to get the designation on their licenses.

She estimated that about 90 percent of the county clerks across New York who operate local motor vehicle offices are also opposed to the new fee on veterans.

“I just can’t help but feel that this wonderful idea was simply all based on greed,” she said. “Haven’t our veterans already paid enough? Any veteran who wants to display their status on their license or ID card should be allowed to do so and the state should issue these amendments for free.”

A spokeswoman for state DMV, Jackie McGinnis, said her agency does not have the option to waive a fee that was imposed by an act of the Legislature.

“The legislation calling for the veteran designation on a license or non-driver ID, which includes the $12.50 statutory amendment fee, was proposed by and passed in both the state Senate and the state Assembly one year ago, making it part of the Vehicle and Traffic Law,” McGinnis said in an email reply to an inquiry from The Daily Star. “Any changes to that law would, again, have to be proposed and passed by both the state Senate and Assembly.”

Governors who have objections to fees inserted in approved legislation have the option of vetoing those measures and asking the Legislature to retool the bills to address such concerns.

McGinnis, whose boss, DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala, is a Cuomo appointee, did not respond to a query as to whether Cuomo had objections to the fee when he approved the measure allowing veteran status designation on DMV documents.

Two years ago, Sinnott Gardner was one of a number of county clerks who successfully pressured Albany to reverse course on regulations that would have allowed drivers to self-certify that they don’t have poor vision when they renew their licenses online.

At the time, Sinnott Gardner called that move “another cash grab by a desperate state government without regard to the consequences and the well-being of motorists.”

Before pulling the plug on that plan, state officials had called it an effort to improve public service.

McGinnis said the “statutory amendment fee” is not imposed if a veteran seeking the status on a photo document requests it at the time of renewal.



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