Peninsula loses argument for simple border ID

Peninsula News Network

Friday, March 23, 2007

Port Angeles, WA - While state officials are trumpeting the approval of a new system to use so-called “enhanced driver's licenses” to cross the Canadian border, adoption of the program this week came over the objections of local government and business leaders who wanted a simpler program.

This week the Legislature gave its approval to a program pushed by Governor Christine Gregoire to use the high-tech driver's licenses, or “smart cards” to satisfy federal officials as part of a pilot program to enhance border security. Under that program, people crossing the border can purchase a special 40-dollar driver's license that can be scanned at the border, carrying not just proof of identification, but also providing access to more detailed criminal records and other personal history. The pilot program is designed to see whether the so-called “smart cards” can satisfy the federal requirements for better ID checks at the border instead of requiring passports under the Wester Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

But approval of the system, which was pushed by the Department of Homeland Security and Governor Christine Gregoire, wasn't the plan favored by ferry operators, tourism industry leaders and local government officials here on the Olympic Peninsula.

Those groups had wanted the state to adopt a much simpler and more wide-spread approach  that would have used existing drivers licenses instead. They argued hand-held scanners produced by the Mobilisa company of Port Townsend could have be used with everyday licenses in a system that would have cost millions of dollars less than the DHS program. Plus, they're worried the enhanced licenses will be too expensive and restrictive, thereby discouraging casual travelers from crossing the border.

However, despite intense lobbying by local community leaders the past couple of weeks, the plan passed the Legislature overwhelmingly.

What this all means is that, starting January, travelers that want to use the new system will have to go into a driver's licensing office and plunk down the cash for the smart cards, although that's still half the price of a passport. There's also no guarantee the smart cards will be any good after the pilot program.

In the meantime, travelers will still be able to cross the border by showing their regular drivers' licenses, or two other forms of photo ID until June 2009.


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