Passage of driver’s
license bill would
cost ‘big bucks’

Congress is poised to vote this week on legislation that will require people to confirm their legal status in the United States to get or renew a driver's license, a change that might be costly for Hawaii.

The REAL ID Act, seen by proponents as a curb on foreign terrorists, aims to deter illegal immigrants from having the identification that is widely accepted for boarding airplanes and to do business within the United States.

Though aimed at immigrants, it will affect U.S. citizens who will be expected to produce original or certified copies of their birth certificates, Social Security cards and documents linked to their home address to get a license.

"It will cost big bucks for Hawaii and Alaska," said Dennis Kamimura, administrator of the Honolulu Motor Vehicle and Licensing Division. "What the federal government wants us to do is go electronically online with other states to retrieve digital images of other driver's licenses."

The digital exchange program is being researched, and another program, yet to be developed, would give access to birth and death certificates in each state, Kamimura said.

"For the contiguous states, it's not the problem that Hawaii and Alaska face. We do not have land-line connectivity," he said. "The problem for us is communications. I expect it to be very expensive.

"The federal government may pay initially, then the states will absorb the cost."

The National Conference of State Legislators opposes the measure, included in an $82 billion emergency spending bill to fund military operations and rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as tsunami relief efforts in Asia.

The REAL ID Act would cause chaos and backlogs in thousands of driver and motor vehicle licensing offices across the country, said group spokesman Cheye Calvo.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association also opposes the measure, which will also make it harder for applicants to prove they qualify for asylum in the United States. "It's a radically bad bill that will have radically bad consequences," spokeswoman Judith Golub said.

Kamimura said Hawaii already has more stringent identification requirements than many other states.

"Not many states require a Social Security number, not many require a fingerprint. Some other states have trouble with illegal aliens. I don't think we have that much trouble," he said.

Kamimura said that, only last month, Hawaii joined the Social Security Online Verification System, which can confirm within seconds if information on a person's name, date of birth and Social Security number are accurate. A common discrepancy occurs when someone marries but does not inform the government of the name change, Kamimura said. The system also checks the status of applicants who live here, such as foreigners on work or student visas who do not qualify for Social Security, but might qualify for a driver's license under Hawaii law.

Jeff Lungren, a spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee, which spearheaded the REAL ID Act, listed Hawaii as one of nine "problem" states that did a poor job of verifying identification documents.

Kamimura said that was based on information before the state hooked up to the Social Security Online Verification System.

Associated Press and Cox News Service contributed to this report.

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