Oregon considers allowing new forms of ID

Article subtitle: 
State considering alternatives to driver's licenses
Article author: 
Peter Wong
Article publisher: 
The Statesman
Article date: 
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
Article Body: 

An effort is under way for Oregon to develop alternative forms of driver identification.

Alternatives could allow licenses without proof of “legal presence,” as is the case in Washington and New Mexico. Or they could take the form of driving privilege cards, as in Utah.

Most states, including Oregon, require drivers to provide documents offering proof of legal presence in the United States before licenses can be issued. That could be a birth certificate, passport or tribal ID.

They were prodded by the federal government to do so under the Real ID Act. Congress passed it in 2005 in response to findings that most of the hijackers involved in the East Coast terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, possessed state driver licenses and non-driver identification cards.

Since Oregon’s law was passed in 2008, and took full effect in 2010, the number of license renewals through Driver and Motor Vehicle Services has dropped. Annual renewals in 2008 for Class C noncommercial licenses were 240,259; in 2011, the most recent year available, almost 30 percent less.

“Due to Oregon’s eight-year driver license renewal period, it is expected that an increasing number of drivers will be unable to renew their driver license because they no longer qualify under the new requirements” of the 2008 law, DMV administrator Tom McClellan said in a report to the Legislature in January.

He said the downward trend likely is to continue through the decade.

Call by Kitzhaber

“Right now, too many Oregonians are traveling from home to work, or school, or church, in risk of violating the law,” Gov. John Kitzhaber said in a message read aloud May 1 at a immigrant-rights rally at the Capitol. “They are forced to choose between this risk and providing for their families.”

Kitzhaber said he would convene a “diverse work group” he hoped would develop a consensus on driver identification “allowing people to come out of the shadows and contribute to our state’s economic recovery.”

But to Jim Ludwick of McMinnville, a spokesman for Oregonians for Immigration Reform, Kitzhaber’s remarks can point to only one thing.

“While he did not say he wants to give illegal aliens a driver’s license, there is no other way you can look at his comments,” Ludwick said. “Obviously, we are opposed to a policy of giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.”

Ludwick’s group, and James Buchal, Republican nominee for attorney general, have requested disclosure of the members of the work group and open meetings.

But because it is a “work group” that answers to the governor, it’s not subject to the open meetings law, and the governor’s office declined to disclose members. It did identify Frank Garcia, Kitzhaber’s adviser for diversity, as the staff person attending.

“In contrast to past efforts, the governor has urged the advocates to come to an agreement on a proposal that has the support of public safety officials, and that could gain legislative approval,” said Amy Wojcicki, a spokeswoman for Kitzhaber.

“The governor does not anticipate introducing his own legislative concept, but will continue advocating for a system that better ensures public safety and allows people to get to work, church and school.”

An Oregon Senate committee heard a bill proposing to remove proof of legal presence as a requirement for issuing driver’s licenses. Although the hearing on April 18, 2011, drew hundreds of people to the Capitol to demonstrate, observe and testify, the bill did not advance to a vote.

During the rally preceding that hearing, Francisco Lopez, executive director of CAUSA, Oregon’s immigrant-rights group, said: “We Latinos know what a long struggle is. We are not going to give up hope of getting driver’s licenses. We are not going to get on our knees.”

The alternatives

The federal Real ID Act allows states to issue other forms of driver identification with a “unique design or color” and a “clear statement” on its face that it cannot be used for federal identification purposes.

New Mexico and Washington issue some driver licenses without proof of legal presence — and Washington issues an “enhanced” license that not only can be used for federal purposes but also serves as identification to and from Canada.

Governors of those states have failed in getting legal-presence licenses.

Since 2005, Utah has issued a driving privilege card that must be renewed every year. The number of recipients has held steady at 41,000 to 43,000, and according to legislative audits, 75 percent of cardholders have insurance, compared with 82 percent for regular licensees.

Such a card was proposed in the Oregon Legislature, but a joint budget subcommittee shelved it in the 2005 session after it cleared the House Transportation Committee.

Tennessee also had a separate card but repealed the law.

Unlicensed drivers

In reports required by a companion law also passed in 2008, when proof of legal presence became the standard for Oregon licenses, DMV has said that unlicensed and uninsured drivers are not causing more frequent traffic crashes.

While the percentages of unlicensed drivers involved in crashes — regardless of whether they are insured — dropped from 2007 through 2011, the percentage of licensed but uninsured drivers went up.

“There is no evidence that unlicensed driving is increasing,” DMV’s McClellan said in his 2012 report to the Legislature. “And, although uninsured driving was higher in 2009 through 2011 than in 2007, because the rate of unlicensed drivers did not also increase, it seems likely that decreases in the insurance rate are due to a weak economy.”

Still, he wrote, it’s still too early to gauge the additional requirements for Oregon driver’s licenses, given that Oregon is only halfway through the eight-year cycle for licensing.

“As more drivers are unable to obtain an original driver license or renew their driver license due to additional identification requirements, the effects of the law on unlicensed and uninsured driving will become clearer,” he said.