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Senate debate leads to change of heart on elderly drivers’ bill

The bill sponsored by Sen. Shelly Hettleman, D-Baltimore County, would require drivers 85 and older to renew in person at an MVA office. (Submitted photo)

The bill sponsored by Sen. Shelly Hettleman, D-Baltimore County, would require drivers 85 and older to renew in person at an MVA office.
(Submitted photo)

ANNAPOLIS — A bill that would require drivers 85 years and older to renew their driver’s licenses in person  was rejected by the Maryland Senate Tuesday.

The unusual result of a preliminary vote came after an intense debate about senior citizens and their drivers that caused some who voted for the bill in committee to change their minds on the floor. Sen. Ron Young, D-Frederick, called the bill discriminatory and an attempt to bully seniors into giving up their driving privileges.

“To me, it’s a form of intimidation,” said Young, 80. “We’re making them go in to renew because they might not go because they’re scared and nervous. We’re trying to stop suppression and intimidation in voting. To me, this is intimidation and suppression of people keeping an active life and going forward with the ability to drive.”

Under current law, all drivers who appear in person to renew a license are required to take and pass a vision test. The law, however, allows that a driver may apply for an eight-year renewal by mail in between required appearances at the MVA. No vision test is required for those mail-in renewals.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Shelly Hettleman, D-Baltimore County, would require drivers 85 and older to renew in person at an MVA office.

Hettleman, 56, said she hoped her bill, if it became law, would cause older drivers who know they have problems to “self select” and decide not to go in for a renewal.

“It is a noncoercive way of making people think twice if they have to go into the MVA or they perhaps ought to continue to be behind the wheel,” she said. “This is about public safety, public safety of the driver as well as the community at large. It is not coercive.”

Hettleman introduced the bill in response to a 2019 fatal car crash that took the life of a family member of a constituent. She presented studies she said showed drivers were more likely to be the cause of crashes than younger ones and twice as likely to die in crash.

Neither the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration nor AARP Maryland took a position on the bill.

“This bill, I think, we’re discriminating against the elderly,” said Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford counties. “We all know there is nothing worse than going to the MVA and sitting there for hours.”

Jennings, who will be 47 next week, compared the wait to a scene in the movie “Beetlejuice” in which the title character is forced to take a number for an appointment in an afterlife bureaucratic office similar to a government agency.

“If you remember that movie “Beetlejuice,” at the end when he picks that number, that’s what it feels like to sit there,” said Jennings.

The bill passed out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee 11-0.

Young and others compared the bill to voting rights.

“This conversation would be very different if we were requiring someone 85 or older must show up at an election poll rather than mailing in a ballot,” said Sen. Steve Hershey, 56, R-Upper Shore.

Some who supported the bill, such as Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick, changed their mind as a result of the debate, saying the 40-minute exchange on the Senate floor “was probably 100 times longer than we had in committee, and it was enlightening to hear other people’s perspectives.”

Hough, 41, said Young’s points caused him to rethink his position. In all, he and 13 other Republicans were joined by 14 Democrats in voting against the bill. Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County and a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, was the only Republican to vote in favor of the bill during the preliminary floor vote.

 


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