Audit, Public Hearings Planned on Missouri License Controversy
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX/AP) - Officials who oversee Missouri’s driver’s license bureau acknowledged Wednesday that they intentionally chose not to use a common public notification procedure before launching a controversial new system that scans applicants’ personal documents into an electronic database.
Four state officials testified about Missouri’s new driver’s license process during a tense hearing by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is holding up next year’s budget for the Motor Vehicle and Driver Licensing Division because of concerns about the procedures. The chairman of the panel said Wednesday that he plans to hold additional hearings across the state to gather public reaction.
Republican lawmakers are upset that the driver’s license offices in December began making electronic copies of applicants’ birth certificates and concealed weapons permits for a state database. State officials say the intent is to prevent and catch fraud. But some lawmakers remain skeptical that the agency is trying to comply with the federal Real ID Act, which sets stringent requirements for photo identification cards to be used to board commercial flights or enter federal buildings.
Missouri has a 2009 law prohibiting the state from taking steps to comply with the 2005 federal identity law.
During Wednesday’s hearing, committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer noted that department rules require people only to show documents to license clerks. He asked why the Department of Revenue, which oversees the licensing division, hadn’t pursued a rule change which would have required a public comment period specifically stating that documents would be scanned and saved by the state.
Department General Counsel Trevor Bossert said he advised against it and the agency opted not to publish a rule change, partly because of the “administrative burden” it would have created. He described the scanning process as “an internal procedure” of the agency conducted after people show their documents.
“You should have informed the public,” Schaefer, R-Columbia, told the department officials.
Department Director Brian Long, who was appointed to the post Dec. 13 by Gov. Jay Nixon, told senators Wednesday that he has no objection to now publishing a rule change about the new process.
In a Dec. 12 letter to the U.S. Homeland Security secretary, Long’s predecessor asserted that Missouri’s security standards for issuing driver’s licenses “are comparable to or exceed the substantive security standards of the federal REAL ID Act.” Attached to the letter was a chart showing Missouri’s compliance and, in some cases, noncompliance with 39 requirements of the federal law.
But Nixon has denied Missouri is trying to implement Real ID, and his Revenue Department officials repeated that assertion Wednesday.
“The reason for scanning is to have a more secure license. It’s not to comply with Real ID,” said Deputy Department Director John Mollenkamp.
Schaefer suggested state officials have been trying to evade his questions.
“I get the semantic game. What you’re doing is you’re implementing things that are required by Real ID and then trying to tell the General Assembly you’re actually not doing it for Real ID,” Schaefer said. “I don’t know if people think we can’t read, or we just don’t have the ability to comprehend cause and effect?”
Under Missouri’s prior licensing process, local clerks looked at applicants’ documents, took a photo and immediately printed a license. Under the new system, those licenses are printed and mailed by a contractor several days after people apply.
Jackie Bemboom, the director of the state licensing division, said the state started scanning and saving copies of documents because of fraud issues. A clerk in a St. Joseph license office pleaded guilty Dec. 11 in a scheme to accept false identification documents that federal prosecutor say resulted in Missouri licenses being issued to more than 3,500 people living illegally in the U.S.
Under the old system, state officials had no way of verifying the documents that local clerks viewed and approved, Bemboom said. State officials now are randomly reviewing the scanned documents submitted by about 120 of the 6,000 applicants it receives daily, Bemboom said.
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