Jill Lode processes license renewal

Sioux County Driver’s License head Jill Lode checks out the license of Orange City resident Darryl Turnwall at the Sioux Center office on Thursday, Sept. 3.

REGIONAL—N’West Iowa is beginning to get ahead of the backlog of driver’s license renewals created by the shutdown of county offices earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, but appointments still are required in some counties.

On Aug. 26 the Iowa Department of Transportation announced its offices will permanently move to an appointment-only basis for driver’s license services. The closest service center operated by the DOT is in Sioux City.

The DOT’s switch to appointment-only visits from the public only applies to state offices. County-owned and operated offices can make their own decisions.

In N’West Iowa, the hope is to move away from appointments and return exclusively to the former walk-in model.

Sioux and Osceola counties are already there. After a brief stint of accepting appointments in May, both offices resumed walk-in driver’s license renewals and changes in June.

“We haven’t done appointments here for about two months,” said Jill Lode, head of the Sioux County Driver’s License Department. “We tried that for about a month and it was a huge headache so we do walk-ins.”

Due to limited hours at the Sioux County Courthouse in Orange City, Sioux County license services are only being provided out of the Sioux Center location in Centre Mall.

Lode said Sioux County is almost back to normal as far as wait times and volume of clients.

Visits surged over the summer but have since returned to a more manageable level. To help keep up, the office has restricted services to necessary renewals or changes to license information.

Licenses will be issued and renewed or updated with address and names changes, but only if they have actually expired or the change is necessary.

“We’re just kind of putting a little limitation on that your birthday needs to be past for you to renew,” Lode said. “We’re not doing anything ahead of time unless there’s a special circumstance.”

Under Gov. Kim Reynolds’ emergency orders, noncommercial driver’s licenses that expired or will expire between Jan. 16 and Sept. 20 of this year still can be used for driving purposes.

Unless Reynolds extends the proclamation, driver’s licenses will be subject to their printed expiration date starting Sept. 21. Licenses past the 60-day grace period beyond the printed expiration date will immediately be invalid.

Osceola County also is back to normal. Since resuming walk-in appointments, Treasurer Becky Marco said the office also has seen more visits from out of county as people will drive a little farther to avoid having to wait sometimes weeks for an appointment to open up in their county.

Lyon and O’Brien counties remain on an appointment-only setup. Their backlog of appointments for driver’s license renewals stretches through the last week of September.

O’Brien County treasurer Missy Hattermann said the county will continue using appointments to prioritize updating licenses that expired several months ago.

“Once we feel more comfortable that things are being taken care of then we will open up to the public without appointments,” she said.

Hattermann and Lyon County treasurer Russ Hopp hope to reopen their offices for walk-in driver’s license services by the end of the year.

“We’re just going to keep revisiting it at probably the end of the month each month,” Hopp said.

To help relieve the backlog of license renewals, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has pushed back the start date for Real ID guidelines to Oct. 1, 2021. Counties ask license holders to postpone updating their license with the Real ID gold star until next year to help reduce volume.

Real ID guidelines, which would have taken effect Oct. 1 this year, will allow Real ID licenses to serve as identification necessary fly commercially or enter certain federal facilities.