And now ... armed guards at the DMV

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted December 11, 2000

Constitutional authority for licensing cars and drivers is pretty tenuous, largely based on early legal sleight-of-hand designed to purposely confuse the excisable professional of "driving" -- hauling passengers or freight for profit on the public roads -- with simple civilian travel.

The image is colorful -- the Slim Pickens "toll booth" scene from the Mel Brooks film "Blazing Saddles" comes to mind -- but there's no record that George Washington had to stop by each state capitol along his route, signing up for the 18th century equivalent a "photo ID" and a little metal plate to hang over his horse's rump, as he moved from Massachusetts through Connecticut, rushing to the defense of New York in 1776 and Philadelphia in 1777.

In fact, drivers' licenses are thinly disguised police ID cards. (Does one forget how to drive when moving across town, or into another state? Then why isn't the license you got in another state the year you graduated from high school still as "good" as the high school diploma you earned that same year?)

Yet we obligingly buy into the euphemism that the "customers" of the Department of Motor Vehicles want quick and efficient "service" when we go wait in line to renew these sundry government forms -- as though anyone would be buying this bill of goods, absent the armed and uniformed men who stand ready to handcuff us and impound our valuable vehicles if we're caught without our "papers, please."

Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn

Now, some of the peons are apparently growing restless. Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn said on December 4 that state workers fear for their lives because "patrons" at DMV offices are going ballistic when they're told -- after waiting in line for an average of more than an hour -- not only that they're being refused the routine paperwork they've come to pay for, but that their vehicles are instead going to be impounded for overdue traffic or parking tickets.

DMV Director Richard Kirkland added that some victims have told his employees that they will be killed or that they should be looking over their shoulder when they leave work.

"Some have been grabbed around the throat," he added.

Oh, the humanity!

The governor on December 4 asked members of the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee to provide funding for armed guards in the Las Vegas and Reno DMV offices, to keep these unruly peasants in line.

Though it's tempting to suggest they be given MP-40 submachine guns and fancy black uniforms with silver skulls on the collars, the better to help everyone appreciate the true nature of the transaction being effected, in fact some better solutions are available:

First, the American system of governance is based on carefully delineated lines of jurisdiction between the various levels of government -- one of many safeguards against a vertically integrated, Napoleonic tyranny.

A state motor vehicle office has no more business withholding a state document from an otherwise qualified citizen based on non-payment of local or municipal parking tickets, than the U.S. State Department should be refusing us passports because our chicken coops are alleged to be in violation of some local zoning code.

Yes, local judges have ruled that the state should impound the vehicles of drivers who ignore local parking tickets. The correct response from Gov. Guinn should be: "The judges have made their ruling; now let them try to enforce it. My guys aren't going to do it, because it's unconstitutional."

(The "balance of powers" is supposed to allow any of the three branches to block an unconstitutional order from another -- otherwise we'd only need one branch of government: the courts.)

In the meantime, though, statistics provided by the governor and his staff in the course of seeking funds for 64 new part-time workers in an effort to decrease waiting times at the DMV offices -- now averaging 79 minutes per victim at the Sahara office in Las Vegas -- should raise some eyebrows in their own right.

In part because of a perverse incentive in state employee contracts which encourage workers to "use or lose" their "sick time," on any given day 30 percent of employees are absent from their posts in the Henderson, Carey Avenue and West Flamingo Road DMV offices, the governor's staff revealed. While on East Sahara, the average rate of absenteeism is a whopping 49 percent.

Couple this with the astonishingly inefficient hunt-and-peck methods of data entry which citizens are witnessing when they finally do reach the front of the lines, and it's small wonder tempers are near the breaking point.

"The way that the sick time pay is structured is one of the things that we're looking at very closely," the governor's spokesmen, Jack Finn, told me on December 5.

And will the governor be looking at getting his DMV workers out of the job of impounding autos to enforce municipal parking tickets?

"That's something we're looking at. It's something we're very seriously studying," Finn says.

The long-term solution, of course, is to abandon the whole system -- allow Nevada's citizens to travel the highways as they please without any government "licenses," "registrations" or "permits." But until the governor finds the political courage to take that obvious step toward restoring one of our most basic freedoms, one further thing does come to mind:

Employers in the private sector seem to have no problem hiring employees who can type 60 words per minute, and who actually show up for work a lot more often then 51 percent of the time, for as little as 10 bucks an hour.

The governor might want to "seriously study" firing the entire current DMV staff, and replacing them with Kelly Girls.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and editor of Financial Privacy Report (952-895-8757.) His book, "Send in the Waco Killers: Essays on the Freedom Movement, 1993-1998," is available at 1-800-244-2224.

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