New Jersey lawmakers have seen enough Motor Vehicle Commission agency closures caused by COVID-19 over the past several months.

Proposed laws introduced by Senate and Assembly members in the northern and southern part of the state aim to keep operations moving so that residents don't have to maneuver a maze of closures and rules on a daily basis. But the government agency says most of the frustration is unnecessary, since few MVC transactions require an in-person visit.

"It's an absolute shame that we have to legislate common sense here because the MVC has left us no choice," Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, told New Jersey 101.5.

Bucco has introduced legislation that directs the MVC to "take all measures necessary to prevent the temporary closure" of an agency location due to coronavirus. If the temporary closure of an agency is still necessary, the bill states, reasonable alternatives like mobile units must be provided to customers.

Under the MVC's COVID-19 safety protocols, agency locations close when they don't have enough staff to safely operate. When a COVID-19 case is recorded within an agency's staff, any other workers exposed to that positive case are required to quarantine for 14 days.

"Grocery stores, big box stores that have been open from the very beginning of this pandemic don't operate that way," Bucco said. "We just can't keep shutting these agencies down for 14 days all around the state."

The MVC would not comment on the proposed legislation, but said that unlike employees of large grocery stores, MVC's employees work in close quarters in confined spaces.

"The MVC is working diligently to get our employees vaccinated so there will be fewer closures," MVC spokesman William Connolly said. "We know this is inconvenient which is why we have aggressively moved transactions online, to the point where nearly all license renewals and registration renewals are now processed online, and about 80% of total transactions are conducted online."

On Tuesday afternoon, six of the 39 MVC centers were closed due to COVID-19. Nearly 60 of these temporary closures occurred between early July 2020, when the MVC reopened to the public, and early 2021.

To maintain social distancing among customers during the pandemic, the agency moved to designate certain agency locations as licensing centers, and others as vehicle centers.

On Monday, Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cape May, introduced legislation mirroring an Assembly bill that requires the MVC to have both a licensing center and vehicle center up and running in each county of the state.

"South Jersey families are forced to travel hours and miles away from their own local MVC to complete routine tasks," Testa said in a joint statement with other local lawmakers. "Too often, many make the drive only to be frustrated with office closures due to failures to contain the spread of COVID-19 within state-run centers."

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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