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‘The citizens are just adamant about not losing this’

Freeborn County commissioner, legislators continue to press for keeping driver exam site in county

Freeborn County Commissioner Ted Herman testified alongside District 27 Sen. Gene Dornink this week in front of a Senate committee about the importance of keeping a state driver exam site in Freeborn County. 

The virtual hearing came in front of the Senate Transportation Finance Committee about Dornink’s bill — Senate File 1979 — which would establish a minimum number of driver’s license testing locations across the state and keep the testing sites in operation that are already in place.

The action comes as the state Driver and Vehicle Services Division continues to explore a regional consolidation of exam centers across the state. If the consolidation takes place, Freeborn County residents would be required to travel to another location such as Austin, Mankato or Rochester to take their tests. 

People would still be able to renew licenses, IDs and permits and complete Department of Natural Resources transactions in Albert Lea.

Albert Lea’s exam station has been closed since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, but prior to that, residents had the ability to take the written and driving test in Albert Lea two days a week. 

Herman said he talked to the committee about the unnecessary hardship that closing the station permanently would have on residents. New drivers in high school would have to leave school for longer periods of time to travel for their tests, along with parents who would have to leave work longer to take their child. 

He said the state also needs to consider the many farmers and their employees who rely on the exam office for their class A and B driver’s tests, as well as new bus drivers who are obtaining their Class B licenses. The added distance to get to an exam site would equate to added costs for wages, fuel and drive time, as well as a loss of productivity. 

“The citizens are just adamant about not losing this,” Herman said. 

The county commissioner said he has also reached out to share the concerns he has heard with Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, who has thanked him for reaching out, as well as Driver and Vehicles Services Commissioner Emma Corrie.

Herman said people can continue to reach out to commissioners Harrington and Corrie with input. Harrington can be reached at john.m.harrington@state.mn.us, and Corrie can be reached at emma.corrie@state.mn.us. 

“I think it puts us on the map — Freeborn County — that we are going to be heard,” Herman said. “We’re going to do whatever we can do to make sure Freeborn County is heard and that we’re taken care of by the state like we’re supposed to be with our tax dollars.”

Dornink said he and Rep. Peggy Bennett have also both reached out directly to Harrington, and Dornink plans to follow up with him again after the Easter break. 

Dornink said his bill got laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill, and more will become clearer as they go into the next phase of the session. 

The senator thanked residents for reaching out and letting their voices be heard.

“It’s a statement about what’s really important to rural Minnesota,” he said.