I winced when I first heard Tax Collector Mike Olson was hiring armed guards to deal with unruly people at his offices.
Um, yeah. That would be me.
I'm normally pretty calm and even-keeled, and if anything, people rib me for being too quiet. But back in April I lost my cool at Olson's Gulf Harbors office, when I arrived with my original birth certificate, my Social Security card, a utility bill, the deed to my house and my soon-to-expire driver's license, only to be told that wouldn't be enough to renew my license.
No, they would need a certified copy of my marriage license, too.
The clerk pointed to some fine print in a brochure on the new driver's license law, explaining I needed to present proof of "name change." Even though I've had my married name for 11 years, and it's already on my current license.
"It's still a change in your name at that point," she said.
At which point I got rather irate. I raised my voice and lectured this poor clerk on the need to be reasonable (even as I was being anything but). Then I stormed home, got the marriage license, came back and got my new license.
Smile for the camera!
Olson told me last week that new driver's license law is causing the vast majority of the outbursts at his offices. Congress passed the REAL ID Act back in 2005, and Florida began implementing it in January 2010. The law requires more extensive documentation for state-issued IDs, with the goal of making it harder for terrorists and con artists to get them.
Curiously, it's still a cinch to renew your license online or by mail. Just fill out the form and pay your fee. But I wanted to get an updated photo taken, now that my hair has changed and I no longer wear glasses (airport security had been giving me dubious looks with my old ID). Renewing my license in person triggered all the new requirements.
Olson isn't thrilled that Florida is one of the first states to implement these new standards. "This is one of those things I wish the state had let other people work out the bugs, the details," he said.
Consider some of the provisions:
• You must provide a birth certificate issued by a government entity, not a hospital. So some people have to go through the process of obtaining a new birth certificate from their home state.
• Your Medicare card isn't proof of your Social Security number, even though the number is right there. (The feds have told Olson's office that Medicare cards aren't necessarily reliable.)
• If you're a veteran, your military paperwork doesn't count as an acceptable form of documentation.
• And be prepared to officially document every change in your name since birth: marriage, divorce, remarriage after the death of a spouse, and so on.
Olson likened that last provision to a title search that overwhelmingly affects women.
"Try an 86-year-old woman who's had a couple of husbands, who remarried up North, who may not have all that paperwork from years ago," Olson commiserated.
So yeah, people are upset.
Some just pop off like I did — something I regretted as soon as I went outside and got some fresh air. The clerk was just doing her job. She didn't make these rules.
But others have made threats to return with a gun or a bomb, or to settle scores after hours in the parking lot. Those may be empty rants, but Olson's staff must treat them seriously. You never know. "It's not only the employees I'm trying to protect. It's the customers," he said. "The customers see and hear this, and they need to feel secure that there is a trained professional there to help put out a fire."
Olson initially talked to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office about providing deputies, but it would cost nearly $400,000 to staff all three offices that handle driver's licenses. (Keep in mind the offices open early twice a week and have Saturday hours, so it's a 50.5-hour week at each site.)
He recently lined up a deal with a private firm, AlliedBarton, to provide armed guards at the offices for about $132,000 a year. You should start to see them in the coming weeks.
When Olson announced the news earlier this month at a staff meeting in the Gulf Harbors office, the employees burst into applause. The hope is the armed guards will serve as a deterrent simply by standing there. And if someone does get out of hand, a trained person will be ready to intervene.
Olson understands that people are generally stressed these days, and nothing is more infuriating than hitting a new wall of government regulation. He emphasized his employees want to help people get their licenses. But when tempers flare, they also have to take all threats seriously.
"You don't walk through Tampa International Airport talking about a bomb," he said. "You shouldn't walk out of any place of business or government office nowadays with any kind of threat of violence."
Even if you feel like you're about to explode.
Bridget Hall Grumet is the Pasco city editor. She took a new photo for this column without incident.