Locate your paperwork or you may not be able to renew your driver’s license or ID card
By PENNY FLETCHER
Were you born in a rural region many years ago and your birth certificate recorded at a small city hall that has since burned down? Perhaps you’re a woman who has changed her last name several times by marriage and can’t remember exactly what towns or counties all your marriages and divorces took place. Or maybe you’re the adult child of a private adoption handled by a lawyer who forgot to file all the paperwork with the State. Well, a new law may question your identity and affect your ability to prove you’re really who you say you are. Of course, this law will take the most toll on women, as most men keep their name no matter how many times they marry. Still, there are already cases where men too, have been affected.
Because Florida is one of the first states to implement the Real ID Act enacted May 11, 2008 which is being carried out by the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to reduce threats of terrorism and fraud, the glitches that can prevent people from renewing their driver’s licenses and state identification cards are showing up here first.
People working in both the state and county systems say the law is extremely complicated because of federal mandates connected to the act which took affect here Jan. 1, 2010.
After speaking to Preston Trigg and Marty Rodriguez in the Tax Collector’s Office, which houses the Department of Motor Vehicles, I was transferred to Nancy Millan, director of community relations with that department.
Nancy explained that federal agencies will no longer accept a driver’s license or ID card as identification – nationwide. Only the new Real ID card will be accepted.
Everyone will need to have one, not only for driver’s licenses, but to board commercial flights or enter federal facilities. Every state is mandated to have this in place by May 11, 2011.
People born before December 1964 possessing a current Florida license or ID card may continue to use it as identification until Dec. 1, 2014, and those born after that may use theirs until Dec. 1, 2017.
Renewal, however, is impossible without the paperwork listed on a checklist (which will be provided as a sidebar to this story) unless an exception is made.
“We’ve partnered with the State Department of Highway Safety because there will be a lot of people who will need help,” said Nancy Millan.
Already Real ID is causing havoc at the Ruskin Tax Collector’s Office because some residents have not been able to obtain the documents they need to renew.
“I realize something has to be done, but what’s happening is absolutely asinine,” said 81-year-old Catherine Spohn of Sun City Center. “I was born in an apartment over a beauty salon in New York City with the help of a midwife. She listed my name as Caterina on my birth certificate because that was the Italian way of saying it. But I have gone by Catherine ever since. All my records, my bank, my marriage license, everything is under Catherine.”
Catherine and her husband of 56 years, Arrah, went to the Ruskin Tax Collector’s Office to renew her state identification card. She no longer keeps a driver’s license because she cannot pass the eye test. “But I cannot even get an ID card to prove I am who I say I am. They told me if I can get a passport, then perhaps I can get my ID card so we’ve written to Allentown, Penn., to get a copy of our marriage certificate (another document you must produce as names must be traced back to the name on the birth certificate to obtain identification now). If I can get documentation to get a passport they (the DMV) say it may be possible to issue me an ID card, but I won’t know until I show them what paperwork I’m able to get.”
One woman who Catherine met while waiting at the Tax Collector’s Office last month said she had already spent more than $160 to obtain out-of-state-documents but still could not get the paperwork she needed.
“She was frantic,” Catherine said. “I know they (the government) want to improve security. But somebody didn’t think this thing through.”
Peg and John Frizzola agree.
The couple, who have been married for 54 years, so far have spent two months trying to get Peg’s license renewed. As of press time, she still does not have it because of several glitches in her situation that will take plenty of time to work out. Whether she will be without a license for an extended time is still not clear.
The first problem was that she did not have a State-sealed marriage certificate.
“We got married at a Catholic Church in New York City the day before I got shipped out (to World War II),” John said. “We got our certificate from the church, and that has always been enough. But it was not enough to get Peg a driver’s license and we’re already on our third (time) extension.”
John and Peg even showed DMV officials her birth certificate and the notice of their engagement and marriage in the New York Times, which clearly spelled out Peg’s maiden name, and her parents’ names.
It wasn’t good enough. “Newspaper clippings, even with our photos, aren’t enough to prove that Peg is Peg,” John said.
Donna Forteau at the Ruskin Tax Collector’s Office is working with officials in Tallahassee to help Peg and others like her who may need an exception.
“So far, there has been some assistance for people born before 1935 because the State knows accurate records weren’t always kept before then,” Donna said.
David Westberry, communications director for the Florida State department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles in Tallahassee, says that there is actually an exception built into federal law for those born before that year.
“The Department has no authority to make broad exceptions to the law. But the rules exclude customers born in or prior to 1935,” David said in a telephone interview May 7. “However, we don’t want to complicate our customers’ world. If they can prove there is no way they can recreate the paper trail (back to the birth certificate) we have empowered our managers to make judgments based on good-faith efforts.”
It is possible to get waivers, he said, but the main objective is to get people to start obtaining the proper documents well in advance of need so they won’t go in at the last minute and come out frustrated.
“We’ve processed more than a million compliant licenses since January 1,” he continued. “We must weigh the documents people have on a case-by-case basis.”
He also explained that in cases where a woman has changed her name several times by marriage, she is typically required to trace her name back to the birth certificate. “That would require her to bring some or all of the documents necessary to evidence her current name, even if that is the name on her current driver’s license or ID card,” he said.
In some states, the maiden name is carried on all versions of marriage and divorce records, but in others, only the previous married name is listed.
“If the current name cannot be linked to the birth certificate, we have no way to validate the information being provided to us but they need to bring us what they have so we can see if a waiver can be made.”
The Department of Motor Vehicles and Highway Safety has attempted to reach out to big companies so they can warn their employees to begin collecting information before it’s needed.
“It’s been in the TECO newsletter, and we’ve set up a Web site, www.gathergoget.com,” Donna Forteau said. “There are also lists of what is needed on the Web site, and we have other helpful information in print.” (This information will be provided in a sidebar to this story.)
“It’s not just women needing help,” Donna pointed out. “Recently I had a man whose step parents failed to change his name with the State after adopting him,” she said.
But still, it will be women who are primarily affected.
When I called Peg Frizzola several days after our meeting to check on her progress, she still had problems and had not renewed her license.
When she returned to the DMV after Donna had gotten the State to make an exception, Peg had an infection in one of her eyes. “I wasn’t aware of it then, so now I will have to take the eye test again,” Peg told me in a telephone interview. “I am also getting new glasses.”
So meanwhile, Peg, who has no points against her Florida license, awaits the end of the extension – her third – that allows her to drive until May 27. What will happen after that, she still does not know.
Knowing that because Florida is made up of a greatly diverse population, many who have come from other states where record-keeping is not precise, I called the Department of Homeland Security in Washington D.C. May 10.
Information provided to me by DHS explains that the Real ID Act of 2005 prohibits any federal agency from accepting a driver’s license or personal identification card for any official purpose. Like the Social Security Card, it no longer may prove identity; only the new, Real ID Card will do that.
“Raising the standards of state-issued identification is an important step toward enhancing national security,” said Candace, in the DHS Press Room in Washington. “Because a driver’s license serves so many purposes – like access to federal buildings, nuclear power plants, boarding aircraft, and so on, criminals and terrorists actively seek fraudulent state-issued identification. States that implement measures to increase their documents’ security make it more difficult for criminals to obtain these documents, while making it easier for law enforcement to detect falsified documents. While many states have invested in improvements to their driver’s licenses and licensing processes, the lack of minimum performance standards have made it possible for criminals and terrorists to exploit jurisdictions where standards are lower and fraud is easier to commit. That is why the 9/11 Commission recommended that the federal government issue minimum performance standards that all states could measure themselves against.”
Those who want to read more about it may go to the Department of Homeland Security’s Web site, http://www.dhs.gov and type “Real ID Act” into the site’s search bar.
What will happen as people who have not been able to keep track of their paperwork from birth to the present day remains to be seen as time moves on and more people try and renew their driver’s licenses.
For more about what you will need when you visit the DMV, click here.