Our Opinion: RMV compounding its original mess

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The state Registry of Motor Vehicles continues to flounder on rough waters, pitching from under-enforcement to over-enforcement and threatening to be dragged under by its own bureaucracy. Innocent victims are being caught up in the storm.

A story in Sunday's Eagle by Haven Orecchio-Egresitz chronicled the travails of Michael Ciaburri of Pittsfield, an Iraq veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder whose license was suspended because of a clerical error. "A bureaucratic nightmare." It took six weeks to unravel the snafu, during which Mr. Ciaburri had to rely on shuttle services to get to his counseling sessions at the Brien Center. This resulted from the RMV's efforts to compensate for years of record-keeping inefficiencies that came to light after a horrific accident in New Hampshire.

That accident last June caused the death of seven motorcyclists struck by a truck allegedly driven by Volodymyr Zhukovskyy of West Springfield. He had been charged with an OUI in Connecticut a month earlier but the RMV did not act on that notification and suspend his driver's license because it had become part of a years-old backlog of such notifications that only came to light after the tragic crash. Mr. Zhukovskyy is facing motor vehicle homicide charges, Massachusetts RMV head Erin Deveney resigned, and the RMV began catching up on its record-keeping by matching its records with those of the National Driver Registry.

Enter Mr. Ciaburri, who learned in August that the state had suspended his license because of a 30-year-old conviction for operating under the influence while the Marine was stationed in North Carolina. He had entered a guilty plea and completed all of the court requirements to get his license back.

After being trapped in North Carolina's automated phone system because he doesn't have a North Carolina driver's license, Mr. Ciaburri waited in line for hours at the RMV in Springfield, only to be told that it was his problem to work out with the North Carolina RMV. He then reached out to state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, a Pittsfield Democrat, who began working the phones with Massachusetts and North Carolina officials and eventually discovered that there were two records for Mr. Ciaburri in a North Carolina courthouse, one of which said his case was still open. The issue was resolved, as was the snafu involving Patrick Doyle of Pittsfield, who contacted Rep. Farley-Bouvier after his license was suspended because of confusion with another Patrick Doyle in Pennsylvania. Rep. John Barrett III recounted a similar incident he worked to resolve for a constituent and said these problems were happening before the state began its current record-keeping review.

The Kafkaesque nightmare that Mr. Ciaburri had to endure may have been triggered by North Carolina and/or the National Driver Registry, but it is inexcusable for the state RMV to suspend someone's driver's license and then refuse to help the driver sort out the confusion that caused the suspension. State reps. perform constituent services like these, but the RMV should have taken the initiative.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton from Massachusetts' 6th District will file legislation calling for a national system to alert states immediately whenever one of their drivers incurs a violation in another state, a process that could prevent future tragedies like the one in New Hampshire. But state lawmakers must do a deep dive into the problems afflicting the RMV. Is it one of bad management or an inefficient system? Is the agency underfunded and undermanned? While it is believed in some circles that government funding is always wasteful, sufficient funding is necessary to assure that taxpayers are served. And that taxpayers like Michael Ciaburri do not become innocent victim of the agencies they help fund.

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