For decades, getting or renewing a driver’s license was pretty simple, and no matter where you lived, the process began at the same place: your local circuit court clerk’s office.

As most drivers now know, that once-simple process has gotten much more complicated.  You need additional personal documentation if you’re getting a REAL ID, while many of us in rural areas are now having to travel dozens of miles to another county.  I have received more complaints about this issue than almost any other over the past several years. I certainly understand the frustration and would like to take this time to further explain how we got here.

First, I voted against the change to regional driver’s license offices and spoke against the bill when it was debated on the House floor. When it passed anyway, I have tried very hard to get a regional office in my district to be closer to my constituents. I will keep trying to get one in each of my counties.

I want to emphasize that the decision to move to a regional driver’s license system began during the Bevin Administration, and the decision to move the issuance of driver’s licenses (and personal IDs) permanently away from circuit court clerks to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is because of a 2020 law I proudly voted against.  In fact, I was just one of 14 out of 95 voting in the state House to take this stand.

I certainly am sympathetic to the fact that many circuit court clerks felt the added responsibilities required under REAL ID were too much for their offices.  However, I believed — and still believe — their offices should continue offering traditional driver’s licenses for those who don’t want a REAL ID.  At a minimum, I think the Transportation Cabinet should have offices in each county for this task.

For now, we have no choice but to navigate the system in place.  With that in mind, I was pleased to join with Gov. Andy Beshear late last month as he announced Pikeville would become home to a new regional driver’s license office later this summer, a move that includes driver testing.

That will shorten the commute for many, and while it is not a perfect solution for Letcher County, it is a step in the right direction.  For those in Harlan County, which became part of my legislative district earlier this year, much more work still needs to be done.

By the time 2023 arrives, there should be 31 of these regional offices across the commonwealth, and I will do all I can to add more so additional counties can take part.

It is important to point out that if you’re just renewing a driver’s license, it can be done online, with some exceptions.  You cannot get your REAL ID this way for the first time, for example, or renew it if you’re under 21.  Commercial driver’s licenses cannot be renewed online, and neither can replacements if you’ve lost your driver’s license.

You do not have to get a REAL ID if you don’t want one, but understand that, starting in May 2023, you will need one (or another federal ID like a passport) to board domestic flights and/or enter federal facilities like military bases.

I have had many ask me why the country is moving in this direction, and it all can be traced back to a 2005 federal law that sought to make IDs more secure and harder to copy.  The goal was to have every state in compliance by May 10, 2011 — but that, of course, did not happen.  

Kentucky was on track to have its version in place in 2016, but then-Gov. Bevin vetoed that legislation after initially supporting it.  The legislature enacted the law a year later, and as I mentioned, the Bevin administration and a 2020 law I opposed put the current system in place.

There is a lot of helpful information online if you have questions about what to do to get your driver’s license renewed or if you want to upgrade to a REAL ID.  For simple renewals, I would check here first: https://dlrenewal.ky.gov/, and to learn more about getting a REAL ID, start here: https://drive.ky.gov/.  Please make sure you have everything you need before heading out, because if don’t, it will require more than one trip.

If I can be of further help — on this or any other issue — please let me know.  You can email me at Angie.Hatton@lrc.ky.gov, or leave me a message on the toll-free line established for all state legislators.  That number is 1-800-372-7181, and it’s available during normal business hours throughout the year.