Grace period extended for Michigan license, plate renewals

Michigan drivers whose license or registration expires between April and week’s end will have 120 additional days to renew it without being assessed late fees under new laws that also prohibit such fees broadly unless the secretary of state resumes letting people conduct same-day service at a branch without an appointment.

The bills were signed Thursday by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who said they give motorists needed flexibility during the coronavirus pandemic. A 13-month grace period ended March 31, leading to a transactions backlog. The new leeway helps residents whose driver’s license, vehicle registration, or state ID card lapsed from April 1 through this Saturday.

"It is crucial that we continue to offer services at our secretary of state that fit the needs of all residents as we move forward," the governor said in a statement.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, supports the laws after reaching a compromise with lawmakers.

She had faced legislative criticism in recent months after making permanent a pandemic change requiring people to book an appointment before visiting a branch. She has since said staff serve walk-up customers immediately if there is availability, tell them when the next opening is and invite them to wait or come back, or help them schedule a return visit — often the next day.

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"We are glad to be entering a new era of services at our offices that are more efficient and convenient than ever before," said Benson, a critic of the former take-a-number system. Her office has expanded appointment slots and hours to deal with the logjam of residents trying to renew licenses, transfer vehicle titles, and conduct other business in person.

The laws bar the Department of State from levying late renewal fees unless it allows for same-day in-person transactions to be completed without an advance appointment.