It should not take a yearlong study for Pinellas County Tax Collector Diane Nelson to decide to do the right thing. There is no reason for her to keep charging the homeless a $6.25 processing fee to obtain a state identification card they need in order to find a place to live and apply for jobs. The idea should be to help the homeless become productive citizens, not throw up bureaucratic roadblocks.
The Florida Legislature last year waived the $25 state fee for an ID card for anyone claiming to be homeless, with proof usually provided by a homeless shelter. That was a good first step to help the least fortunate who are trying to rebuild their lives, but Nelson and some other county tax collectors have continued to charge a processing fee. Since the homeless population is also a highly transient one, with a new ID required for each new address, homeless people may need to obtain several different state IDs a year. That $6.25 processing fee can add up quickly for someone who has little or no income and no permanent address.
The Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board has asked Nelson to waive the processing fees. Board member and Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger noted a number of Florida counties, including Pasco, Hernando, Sumter, Lake, Marion, Sarasota, Lee, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach already have waived the processing fee. And it didn't take these counties a year of study to work out the details.
In Hillsborough County, it took a weekend. Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden said he would consider dropping the processing fee when contacted by the Times editorial board Friday. On Monday, Belden called to say he was dropping the $6.25 processing fee immediately. Nelson should do the same.
Local governments should be taking innovative steps to reduce the homeless population and help them succeed, not making it more difficult by charging them $6.25 every time they need a new identification card.