Bobby Marron plopped a stack of documents onto the counter at the driver's license office. Behind him, the line stretched to the door. In front of him at the troubleshooting desk sat manager Ana Nieves.
"Okay here's the situation," the 29-year-old told her. "My Social Security card says Robert. My birth certificate says Bobby. They went and made me change my Social Security card to Bobby. I changed it and now I'm back."
Nieves picked up his paperwork. Since Jan. 1, when a new law went into effect that requires more proof of a driver's identity, her office has turned away applicants by the hundreds. Sit by her for a couple of hours and she will reject one in four. Many will come back three or four times in a day.
This was Marron's fourth visit in almost two months. If Nieves printed him a numbered ticket, he would move into the waiting area to see an examiner who issues licenses — one step closer to getting a driver's license for the first time in five years.
Nieves sifted through his birth certificate from El Paso, Texas, his new Social Security card, and two letters showing his address.
"Do these addresses match with Robert or Bobby?"
• • •
The new rules are part of a federal law called Real ID, which Congress passed in 2005 out of concern that drivers' licenses were too easy to get.
The law is controversial and many states have rejected it as too costly to implement. Florida, where some of the Sept. 11 attackers got drivers' licenses, is among the first states to comply.
To get a state ID or driver's license, even if it is a renewal or replacement, you must come in armed with your original birth certificate or passport, Social Security card and two items mailed to you that contain your address.
If your name has changed because of marriage or divorce, you must provide certified copies proving it.
Those who make it through this document juggernaut become Real ID-compliant and get a tiny gold star on their licenses. At some point, this will be needed to go into a federal building or to board a commercial airliner.
But not as many people are getting the gold star licenses. So far this year, the state has issued licenses to about 260,000 fewer people compared to the same period last year.
People turned away can get frustrated and angry, so angry that Hernando County at one point discussed getting bulletproof glass at offices.
But just as often people are confused, and don't know what to do.
Like the woman born in 1951 whose birth certificate was destroyed in a hospital fire and couldn't be found in state archives.
And the construction superintendent on the Interstate 4 Connector project and his wife. They left their birth certificates and marriage license in a safe deposit box back in Missouri.
Or the high school math teacher who insisted her 1958 birth certificate, also from Missouri, was the original.
"I'm sorry, " Nieves says, feeling for the ridges of a stamp on the document, "but I'm not going to be able to take this. It has no seal."
"Did they do seals back then?" asked an annoyed Jerry Curtiss of Brandon.
Like many of the others, Nieves turned her away.
"I can offer you the number for the vital statistics office in Missouri," she offered politely.
"I've been here for over 20 years," Curtiss said, "and I can't get my license renewed because I don't have a birth certificate."
• • •
Nieves, 38, understands their frustration. But the law requires her to make them exhaust all means before she can even ask for an exception from the state.
Which is why on Wednesday she found herself piecing together the slivers of a 1958 birth certificate from Illinois. A destitute carnival midway worker with bladder cancer needed an ID to get chemotherapy. His old card was stolen, which meant he couldn't get a new copy of his birth certificate from Illinois. And his roommate washed his original birth certificate in the laundry, dissolving it into pieces. So he couldn't get an ID card in Florida.
"You can't read his name on the pieces of the birth certificate," said Barbara Bryant, the Riverview carnival owner, who was helping him. "It's a Catch-22."
Nieves got out the Scotch tape. She smoothed the shriveled edges and pushed the pieces together.
"I've got the name," she said, smiling. "All I can do is submit this for an exception. But I don't see them rejecting this."
Bryant and the carnival worker beamed.
"This is the first little sunshine I've seen," Bryant said, "Ana here helping me."
• • •
Marron, the guy trying to get his license back after a DUI and other driving offenses, won a pass from Nieves and was sitting in the waiting room, listening for his number.
Now he needed to get by examiner Jerry Howard, 35.
"I'm here to get my driver's license," he said, handing over his documents. "So this is all the information we're going to use today. I've been down here so many times, I'm sorry."
Marron, an unemployed fire sprinkler installer, stood patiently as Howard reviewed and scanned each document.
It had been five years since he'd had a license. Now all he wanted was to be able to walk outside and drive away in his red Buick Century.
Moments later, Marron walked outside to find his girlfriend already seated in the passenger seat. "Oh, I'm taking full advantage of this," she said.
He got into the car and drove off, a new driver's license in his wallet.
Times researchers Carolyn Edds and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8640.