TALLAHASSEE — Do you know where your birth certificate is? How about your Social Security card? Or your divorce papers?
Starting Jan. 1, you'll need those documents or others if you're seeking a new driver's license or state-issued ID card. For some it promises to be a bumpy bureaucratic ride, as Florida requires more documentation than ever to prove each driver's identity. It's part of a nationwide program to improve the integrity of state-issued licenses.
Drivers will have to prove their identification, with documents such as an original birth certificate or valid passport; their Social Security number, with the card itself or a pay stub or W-2 form; and their residency, with two forms of identification, such as a voter registration card or an electric bill. Additionally, those with names different from their birth names will need supporting documents, too.
The changes are a result of a federal law known as Real ID, which Congress passed in 2005 partly in response to the Sept. 11 attacks and concerns that drivers' licenses were too easy to get.
Pinellas County Tax Collector Diane Nelson said the stricter ID requirements could be a serious inconvenience for the elderly, such as a woman who may have divorced and remarried with a name change decades ago, before those documents were recorded on microfilm by government agencies.
"Is that something you keep around for 50 years? Your divorce papers?" Nelson said. "I'm sure the first month or so, it's going to be very trying. The frustration will be very high, I can tell you."
Those most likely to immediately feel the law's pinch are drivers applying for a new license, replacing a lost or stolen license or changing their legal name — which will require original or certified copies of all marriage certificates. Drivers who move are required by state law to update the address on their licenses within 10 days.
Under the new rules, drivers can renew their licenses one time on the Internet or by mail. The second renewal must take place in a state driver's license office or county tax collector's office, with the required documents in hand.
Compliance with Real ID will be necessary for anyone seeking to board a commercial airliner or enter a federal government building. The proof will be a small gold star on your license.
County tax collectors, who process most license applications in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, are bracing for big adjustments.
"It's going to be very burdensome," said Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden. "The fact that elderly people, especially, have to bring in birth certificates — that sort of thing is going to take our people a lot longer, to go through the documents and process a license."
The federal government has repeatedly extended the deadlines for states to comply with Real ID, but at least a dozen states have refused, citing the cost or questions of privacy. Some considered the law an unfunded mandate.
Florida, where several of the 9/11 terrorists got drivers' licenses to establish U.S. identities, is among the first states to support the new law. State officials say some of its requirements were in effect before the federal government acted.
"The feds basically modeled Real ID after Florida," said Sandra Lambert, director of the Division of Driver Licenses.
The cost for Florida so far is more than $6 million, mostly for upgraded technology. Nearly half came from the federal government.
Drivers age 50 and under have until Dec. 1, 2014, to comply. Drivers over age 50 have until Dec. 1, 2017, to comply.
"The biggest thing is for us to help folks avoid making two, three or four trips," Lambert said.
In August, the state launched www.gathergoget.com to help drivers navigate the changes (in English and Spanish) and to show how they affect individual motorists, depending on their birth dates. Drivers who don't have Internet access can call (850) 617-3995.
"You have to start somewhere, and it's always difficult when you start making changes," said Nelson, the Pinellas tax collector. "I think they made the right decision for the right reasons. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy."
Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.