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Headaches renewing drivers’ licenses

February 10, 2012
Shepherdstown Chronicle

I and other legislators have been besieged with complaints from folks trying to renew their drivers' licenses this year. The rules became very different beginning Jan. 3. West Virginia is one of the first nine states to implement the federal government's new standards for renewing drivers' licenses. The others are Indiana, South Dakota, Delaware, Connecticut, Utah, Alabama, Ohio and Florida.

The standards, called "Real ID," are much more thorough than the ones states have used in the past. A person will need either a birth certificate or a passport, as well as two separate documents identifying his or her physical address.

Any female who is or has been married also needs a marriage certificate to prove her last name. This in particular seems to be a major hurdle for some. Women who have been married for many years often only have records in their married name. I don't know how necessary this provision is, but it's certainly sexist.

Many of us in the Legislature argued a few years ago that West Virginia should oppose making Real ID as strict as it is. But the commissioner of the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), my old friend and former colleague in the House of Delegates Joe Miller, strongly believes that the current provisions of Real ID are necessary.

Some states have decided to refuse to implement Real ID. Their legislatures have passed resolutions permitting their citizens to get licenses without complying with all the provisions of the federal act.

Even though I think Real ID goes too far, I believe refusing to implement it is a loser in the long run. There's a chance that residents of these states will soon have to have passports or birth certificates to board commercial airplane flights.

My sense is that this will shake out more reasonably in the long run. Perhaps the federal government will provide a list of acceptable documents with which one can board an airplane without a passport or birth certificate.

Real ID came about because of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. This was one of the immediate reactions by President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress to the horror of 9-1-1. Large majorities of Democrats and Republicans alike supported these moves.

I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who said that people who insisted on having both liberty and security would probably end up with neither. I personally believe that the greatest threat of terrorism is that it causes us to be so security conscious that we alter our lives to a greater degree than necessary.

We've made many changes as a result of 9-1-1. Some are no doubt necessary. But I suspect there are some we could do without. Every unnecessary alteration we make to our lives because of the threat of terrorism is a victory for terrorists.

Is Real ID, as being implemented by West Virginia and eight other states right now, necessary? I personally do not think its implementation needs to go as far as the federal government is requiring. What do you think?



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