Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn during Legislative session at the Mississippi State Capitol Tuesday, February 4, 2020.

Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, quickly signaled his intentions to kill a plan that would move oversight of the state’s problem-riddled driver’s license bureaus from the Department of Public Safety to the Secretary of State’s office.

The plan, unveiled this week by newly-elected Secretary of State Michael Watson, was announced Tuesday at an 11 a.m. press conference that about one dozen House Republicans attended. By 5 p.m., the Republican speaker’s staff told Mississippi Today that the proposal does not have Gunn’s support.

“While the Speaker is committed to seeing improvements at the state’s drivers license bureaus, he does not support moving oversight of the services to the Secretary of State’s office,” said Emily Simmons, Gunn’s spokeswoman. “He believes the services can be best improved within the Department of Public Safety, with the ultimate goal being to make the process as efficient as possible for Mississippians.”

Watson, a Republican and former state senator who won the 2019 secretary of state election in a landslide, centered his successful campaign on DMV reform.

Gunn’s public resistance to the proposal this week all but kills it in the House, where the speaker’s position regularly makes or breaks major pieces of legislation. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The state’s driver’s license facilities have for months been plagued with long lines and wait times, and many often close with no advance notice due to short staffs. Mississippians report having to wait all day for simple services or having to come back another day when the bureaus close at 5 p.m.

Department of Public Safety leaders have long asked the Legislature for additional funding to bolster DMV service. Last year, department officials told lawmakers 48 of its 134 driver’s license examiner positions were vacant.

Watson’s sweeping proposal would create a renewal notification system, a digital license option, an new website and an increase in the number of locations and functions of kiosks. His proposal would also outsource driving and written tests, and it would allow a more seamless way to register new Mississippi drivers to vote — a federal mandate that some states have failed in recent years to follow.

About a dozen Republican House members attended Watson’s announcement on Tuesday. Watson said his proposal would be sponsored in the Legislature by Rep. Lee Yancey, R-Brandon, and Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch.

Watson said on Tuesday that the drafting of the bill was not yet completed. Lawmakers face a Feb. 17 deadline to file general bills.

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Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.