The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles failed Monday to implement a new law making it easier to transfer driver licenses from U.S. territories.
The bill, SB 396, requires the DMV to treat drivers from U.S. territories who want a Nevada license the same as drivers from out of state. Previously, drivers from territories like Puerto Rico had to retake the entire drivers test — vision, written and behind-the-wheel. Out-of-state drivers only have to retake the vision portion.
Local activist groups have argued the prior policy created unnecessary burdens for Puerto Ricans.
After waiting for the new law to go into effect on July 1, Puerto Rico native Adaliz Gonzalez, who moved to Las Vegas last year to look for work after fleeing the lingering effects of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, visited the West Flamingo DMV office Monday morning, but when she tried to transfer her license she was denied.
A supervisor there told Gonzalez the office hadn’t received any direction or notification “from above” regarding the transfer of licenses issued by U.S. territories.
In an exchange overheard by the Current, a supervisor told Gonzalez: “It’s not yet legal since nobody involved has called us about it.”
When asked why the DMV had not issued any communication related to the legislation with its branch employees, spokesman Kevin Malone responded to the Current via email: “The reason the policy was not implemented earlier is that the department wants to be able to verify the driver’s history from U.S. territories electronically as we do now for states.”
Malone said information on licenses issued in U.S. territories are not available in the database Nevada uses, meaning the DMV can’t authenticate the validity of the license or any moving violations issued against the driver.
He said the DMV doesn’t have a timeline for when the system would be updated but added that it should be resolved “shortly.”
Other states, including Arizona, visually inspect licenses before their information is entered into the National Driver Register, a separate database with national information on individuals whose licenses have been revoked, suspended, canceled or denied, or who have been convicted of serious traffic-related offenses.
When asked the reason for the delay in enforcing the law, Malone said the DMV expressed to legislators its desire to use a database for verification.
“That’s why we delayed implementing it, but given that the bill is in effect we have decided to begin accepting the licenses and waiving the tests as is stated in the bill.”
The legislation passed both the Senate and Assembly unanimously and was signed by Gov. Steve Sisolak on June 3. According to a fiscal note submitted by the DMV, the estimated cost to the DMV for adopting the new regulations is only $342. That money was allocated by the state.
Late in the afternoon Monday, after the Current’s inquiries, the DMV sent a statewide email directing branches to implement the legislation “effective immediately.”
“This now means applicants surrendering a valid [non-commercial or commercial driver license] from Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands will follow the same testing procedures as an applicant from a US state,” reads the email.
“Policy is currently in process of being updated and will be made available once finalized.”
The decision to move forward with visual inspections came too late for Gonzalez, who left the DMV, disappointed.
“To me, it’s completely absurd because if it’s law you’d assume it would go into effect on the date it becomes law,” she said to the Current. “No policy should be above the law.”