Forget immigrants — the Senate Transportation Committee said U.S. citizens would have a hard time proving their identity to the Department of Motor Vehicles under a bill by Fairfax Sen. Jay O’Brien, R-39th District.
The bill leaves it up to the DMV to develop rules for how persons will prove their legal status and residency, but those documents potentiallywould not be accessible to everyday citizens, committee members said.
“I represent a lot of people who can’t get a birth certificate because they were delivered by midwives. Their births were not reported and so they’re going to have an awful time under this bill,” said Norfolk Sen. Yvonne Miller, D-5th District.
If picture identification is required for a driver’s license, what else could people use besides a military ID or passport, asked Midlothian Sen. John Watkins, R-10th District.
“It would be very difficult,” answered DMV Deputy Commissioner Philip D. Vasquez.
The committee rewrote the bill to delay the new security rules by a year to July 1, 2005, contingent on the General Assembly signing off on rules DMV develops a year from now.
O’Brien, standing with his arms crossed as the committee worked on his bill before approving it, said the proposed process was reasonable. Virginia would use the same computer software that California uses that allows DMV tellers to interact with the Immigration and Naturalization Service while customers stand at the window, he said.
“This is a homeland security bill,” O’Brien said. “I suspect that all of you, if you talk to your constituents about the inconvenience of, to establish who you are, one time at the DMV office, for the sake of national security, every one of your constituents would agree that that’s a good idea, or I suspect 90 percent of them would.”
The dollar cost for the DMV and effect on law enforcement were also debated.
“I believe the DMV is not quite sure nor can they correctly assess what this will cost,” O’Brien said, citing three estimates over the last year from $1.1 million to $5.5 million.
Vasquez said the DMV stands by its estimates.
Several committee members said the cost is a concern, leading them to insert language, often used in bills, that if funding proves unavailable it will not be implemented.
“This bill is not about homeland security. What it’s going to do is make our roads less safe When law enforcement is interacting with people who don’t have identification, I think it makes their job more complicated,” said Claire Gastanaga, a lobbyist for the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations.
Miller said she represents a lot of military so security is important, but she said she cannot vote to put them through “unusual hoops in order to prove who they are.”
House Transportation Committee chairman John A. “Jack” Rollison III, R-52nd District, of Prince William, said he agrees with the Senate move to delay enactment, signaling there will be compromise with a House version carried by Fairfax Delegate David Albo, R-42nd District, that does not delay the legal status check by the DMV.
The bill by O’Brien and Albo was sent to their full respective legislative bodies Thursday.
Staff writer Chris Newman can be reached at (804) 649-8710.