by Andrew Garda
You can’t get a driver’s license, you can’t get a marriage license, but your dog can still get registered.
That’s the current state of things in New Jersey generally and Montclair Township specifically, as COVID-19 continues to shut down state and town offices or limit their contact with the public.
The difference between issuing a marriage license and a dog license — or cat license, birth certificate, or death certificate — is that by statute, the marriage license process has to take place in person, according to Katya Wowk, the township’s communications director.
“By statute they have to take place in person, in front of the registrar for the registration process,” she said on a phone call last week. “No Skype, no email, no texts, you can’t use any of that.”
Wowk said that the office is taking down the names of those who are calling and inquiring about a marriage license, as directed by the state, and will get back to them to start the process as soon as the shelter-in-place order is lifted and the office is open to the public again.
Montclair’s registrar is still at work issuing other official documents that don’t require an in-person meeting either with her or in court, which is also closed.
Closures are also the main problem when it comes to securing a new driver’s license or identification card. Both processes require a person to physically go to a Motor Vehicle Commission facility; they, like the Montclair Township offices, are closed to the public.
Like township employees, workers at the MVC are still working, said Jim Hooker, deputy administrator of strategic communications. That’s how driver’s license and car registration renewals are being processed.
Renewals can be done online, along with most license and registration replacements (for lost items), changes of address, and several other MVC-related processes, all of which can be found at NJMVC.gov.
Drivers who have suspended licenses can seek to get licenses restored, if they are eligible, by using email instead of phone or in-person interactions.
Any drivers who believe they are eligible for reinstatement should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The MVC had previously extended licenses, registrations, and inspections expiring in March, April and May for two months. For those with expiration dates that fell in March, the renewal deadline was extended to May, while expiration dates falling in April have been extended to June, and those in May will be extended to July.
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“All residents who have their driver’s licenses, auto registration, or vehicle inspection due for a renewal by May 31 will receive an automatic two-month extension,’’ Gov. Phil Murphy said on March 14. “Keeping New Jerseyans out of crowded motor vehicle agencies is another step we can take to limit exposure and hold the line against the spread of COVID-19.”
On Thursday, April 23, the MVC announced it was extending its facility closures until May 11.
“As Governor Murphy reminds us, public gatherings represent a threat to all of us, as New Jersey works to flatten the curve in this global pandemic,” New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission Chief Administrator Sue Fulton wrote. “The volume of customers that typically visit our agencies would risk the health of our customers and employees alike. We will continue to strive to make as many services available online as possible.”
The issuing of new driver’s licenses requires a driver’s test and an in-person photo, neither of which can be done with the facilities closed. The same is true with car inspections.
New Jersey’s decision to shut down public access to town and state facilities such as the MVC and the Montclair municipal building mirrors what states as far away as Colorado and as close as New York and Pennsylvania are doing.
In fact, Colorado’s Division of Motor Vehicles has a comprehensive list of ways COVID-19 has impacted driver license issuance on its website, Colorado.gov/DMV.
No matter how they say it, every state’s message is clear: stay home, and wait to get your paperwork. The doors are closed for now.