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Florida lawmaker seeks to modify Real ID requirements for driver's licenses

TALLAHASSEE — Greg Evers had heard people complain about how hard it is to renew your driver's license in Florida, but it didn't really hit home until he did it himself.

He was shocked at the records he had to provide: his birth certificate, Social Security card and two documents proving his address.

"The lady behind the counter lives down the road and knows exactly who I am and knows exactly where I live," Evers said. "This has just gone a little too far."

Evers had come face-to-face with the federal Real ID law, which Florida enacted in 2010 to combat identity theft and prevent illegal immigrants and terrorists from getting official state ID cards.

Now Evers, a Republican state senator from Crestview, has filed a bill to eliminate many of the law's requirements.

Senate Bill 220, called the Florida Driver's License Citizen Protection Act, would drop the requirement that drivers produce Social Security cards, birth certificates, passports and proof of their home addresses.

Under the bill, first-time applicants for a license would have to show proof of citizenship but others would receive automatic renewals. The bill also would force the state to destroy all motorist verification documents on file.

Rep. Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg, has filed a similar bill, HB 109, to prevent the state from stockpiling information on citizens. Ahern recalled a divorced woman crying in his office over problems in complying with proof of a name change.

"She's already in an emotional state," Ahern said. "You've got to prove you're not a terrorist. … Have we overreacted to some of the things that have come down from the federal level in the area of homeland security?"

Julie Jones, director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, defends the law. The vast majority of Floridians who have complied have done so without problems, she said.

Jones says the United Sates will require Real ID cards to board an airplane or enter a federal building. The change takes effect Dec. 1, 2014, for people born after Dec. 1, 1964, and on Dec. 1, 2017, for everyone else.

Jones says the state is working with county tax collectors to streamline the process and make exceptions in certain cases.

"If we undo what we've done, for the 5 million people that already have Real ID-compliant documents, it will all be null and void," Jones says. "We'll take a huge step backwards."

The federal Real ID law was modeled in part on changes Florida made after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when it was revealed that some terrorists had obtained Florida IDs that allowed them to clear airport checkpoints.

In addition, a 2002 Florida grand jury recommended more stringent identity requirements for state IDs because of the growing problem of identity theft.

Eventually, every Florida driver will have to comply: Real ID requires motorists to visit a driver's license office with the documents after they've used their one renewal-by-convenience option by mail or the Internet.

Other signs of a Real ID rebellion: Tea party groups are working to repeal the law, and hundreds of motorists have sent anguished letters to Gov. Rick Scott, expressing frustration.

Falon Holland, 26, of Daytona Beach was born in Orlando and adopted as a child. Her adoptive parents changed her last name, but she couldn't find the proof at the county courthouse.

"I had a heck of a time proving who I was, because there's no record of anything," said Holland, a single mother of two who wrote to Scott in August. She said Scott's office interceded on her behalf and the state made an exception so she can keep driving.

The state's stock response letter to frustrated citizens notes that "Florida has always taken the lead (in) measures to bolster the security of state-issued identity documents."

Democratic state Rep. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando has her own story of frustration with Real ID. While campaigning for re-election last fall, she neglected to renew her license and car tags until mid November.

Thompson, who is married and was born in New Orleans, has lived in Florida since 1955. But she could not find a document to prove her name change, and the local driver's license office would not accept her state-issued photo ID as proof of identification.

Thompson said she was able to renew her driver's license by submitting her renewed passport and a copy of her marriage license.

"It was just incredible," Thompson said. "I think it's overkill. A lot of people don't have these documents available."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected].

Florida lawmaker seeks to modify Real ID requirements for driver's licenses 10/23/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 23, 2011 9:34pm]
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