2014-04-24 / Front Page

Secretary of state visits local office

Michigan’s Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson, left, visited Manistique’s SOS office Thursday. Michigan’s Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson, left, visited Manistique’s SOS office Thursday. MANISTIQUE – Michigan’s Secretary of State, Ruth Johnson, visited Manistique last week, taking time to speak with employees in the local SOS office. Johnson is in the midst of campaigning for re-election to one of the state’s top offices this fall.

According to Johnson, touring the Upper Peninsula and the rest of Michigan is her way of reconnecting with the employees of the 131 SOS offices.

“We get some really good ideas from the staff,” she said. “They know far more than I ever will about how each transaction works.”

Many times, Johnson explained, the visit is used to compliment the staff on “comment cards” submitted by patrons of the office.

“They’re (comment cards) very positive in the UP. I want to make sure I thank them (staff) for the good job they’re doing,” she said. “I inherited great staff that really cares about the community and providing good services. This is one of those offices where we get really good … comment cards.”

The UP also receives Johnson’s recognition for its performance in standing on the “front line” of the organ donor registry.

“L’Anse is number one in the state for the percentage of people – 57 percent of the people are signed up on the organ donor registry,” she said. “The national average is 48 (percent).

Johnson explained that she had recently spoken with the L’Anse office to find out what they’re doing and pass that on to the rest of the SOS offices.

“Michiganians, on a whole, are very generous, kind, and thoughtful people, and you find that especially in the UP,” she said. “People want to know how they can help.”

Johnson’s tour of Michigan has also involved “pitching the plate”, as she puts it. The new Michigan license plate features a colorful version of the Mackinac Bridge and recently won a national award.

“This bridge was finished in 1957 and it’s still the longest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere,” she said. “I think it helps with tourism.”

The new plate costs an extra $5, she said, which is what it costs the state to produce it, because of the color involved. Johnson noted the plates featuring white letters will soon be phased out, as complaints from law enforcement about the readability of these letters prompted the state to replace them with black lettering.

“These (white-lettered plates) will be a collector’s item, I think,” Johnson said.

Johnson said her office has been busily keeping up on ExpressSOS, a website offering many SOS services online. The site means fewer wait lines and reduced wait times at many SOS branch offices.

“Generally speaking, up here you don’t have the long lines, but you certainly have a long commute, and if the weather’s inclement, it really helps people,” she said.

Featured on the website is an option called “print and go”, where if a resident needs license plate tabs, they are able to print and use temporary tabs until the official tabs come in the mail.

May 1 is the official launch for a new veterans’ designation program, explained Johnson, something the SOS office is excited about.

“Any veteran who’s been honorably discharged can bring in their discharge papers … we’ll put that designation right on their driver’s license,” she said.

The red lettered “veteran” designation will allow Michigan veterans to easily identify themselves for discounts and programs.

“I hope people take time to thank somebody who has that veteran’s designation for what they’ve given to this country,” she said.

Other SOS initiatives for veterans include the office’s attempt to streamline the commercial driver’s license process for veterans who drove large trucks while in service.

“If you can drive a big truck there, you shouldn’t have to go through all the red tape when you come home,” she said.

Johnson said the SOS is also working on establishing methods for those actively serving to submit their votes electronically. Currently, the state ranks sixth in the nation for elections.

“I think that’s largely because our local clerks conduct the elections,” she said. “They’re so in touch with the people in the community and very accountable to the people they serve.”

Another focus of the SOS office and Johnson, in particular, is to work to reduce auto insurance fraud. The SOS, she said, conducted a study on July 31 that yielded surprising and disturbing results.

“We found out we had a lot of non-valid insurance and also fraudulent car insurance,” she said. “I know the legislature is working on ways to bring down the cost of insurance, and then our office, we’re working on ways to make sure people pay their fair share. Right now, anybody that’s paying for car insurance is subsidizing all these folks who don’t have valid car insurance – to the tune of $220 million a year.”

The SOS has established the FAIR (Fighting Auto Insurance Rip-offs) task force, which is set to present recommendations this month to help correct the issue.

Strengthening the SOS’s technology is always a primary focus, Johnson said. In fact, the office is currently working with the private sector to install self-service kiosks.

“We have 25 percent less staff than we did 10 years ago, so when we can automate more and make it more convenient for the public – that’s always our goal as we go along,” she said.

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