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Changes to get or renew license will begin July 1

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

SIKESTON -- Beginning July 1 all Missouri motorists -- new and existing -- should be prepared to show some proof they legally belong in the United States.

Whether renewing or obtaining a permit, driver's license or non driver's license, specific identification will be required to show proof of "lawful presence." The change is a result of a state law passed last year.

When U.S. citizens arrive at the license bureau, they must present one of the following: a U.S. birth certificate, a valid U.S. passport, a Certificate of Citizenship, a Certificate of Naturalization or a Certificate of Birth Abroad. And if a person has changed their name through marriage or other means, they must present documentation indicating how their name has changed.

"We know this is going to be frustrating for people and I have already heard of some of those frustrations," said Maura Browning, public information officer for the Missouri Department of Revenue.

Browning said the department just asks the public for patience and understanding.

"Unfortunately when you look at the law, and it requires us to get proof of lawful presence, we are unable to pick and choose and we really have to ask everybody and be fair and consistent," Browning said.

Non-U.S. citizens must also be prepared to present proper identification that indicates their current status. Some examples of appropriate documents for non-U.S. citizens include a valid passport, I-94, I-20, a VISA or an Employment Authorization Document.

Another part of the law stipulates that licenses for non-citizens must expire when their legal presence in the country ends.

Browning pointed out U.S. citizens only have to provide the extra documents once, and then the state will make a note on the person's driving record stating they've satisfied the requirement.

Rose Williams, a fee agent at the New Madrid License Bureau, doesn't anticipate a lot of extra work with the upcoming changes, but she does expect frustration from customers.

"People will be getting upset," Williams predicted. "I think it's really going to be hard on the women more than the men because they have to come in with a birth certificate and a marriage license if they've changed their name."

Williams said the bureau is alerting its customers now of the changes ahead. For those who do not have a copy of their birth certificate, they can contact their local health departments if they were born in Missouri, noted Barry Cook, administrator for Scott County Health Department.

"You can go to any county health department, fill out a form and within five minutes you can have a copy of the certificate," Cook said, adding the cost is $15 for a certified copy of a birth certificate.

For a couple dollars or so a person can obtain a certified copy of a marriage license from the recorder of deeds of the county in which they obtained their marriage license. Those born or married out-of-state can contact the Bureau of Vital Statistics for certificate copies.

"Our customers should plan ahead so while you're hearing about the changes now, go ahead and open up your wallet and look at your purse and see when your license expires," Browning suggested. "Make a mental note of that and do the work you're going to have to do now."

Part of the new law is about trying to hit home on identify theft and fraud, Browning said.

"The licenses we currently issue have a lot of security features, and unfortunately security features aren't good if someone has gone in with fraudulent documents," Browning said.

According to statistics from the ID Theft Clearinghouse, over 635,000 Americans reported themselves as victims of identity theft or fraud in 2004. These victims reported losses of more than $547 million.

A new federal law also steps up requirements nationwide for obtaining and renewing driver's licenses.

The law is aimed at stopping illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses to prevent them from boarding planes or entering protected federal buildings. States have three years to meet the new standards that include verifying applicants are American citizens or legal residents.

Immigrants' rights groups have criticized the federal law, saying it will do nothing to make the country safer but shows increasing hostility toward people from other countries.

Browning said that with the state law's effective date looming, the agency hasn't thoroughly reviewed the federal law to see if changes should be made in Missouri.

Across the country only 12 states don't require proof of lawful presence. "We're joining the party late, so to speak," Browning said.

And in a couple of years when the federal bill goes into effect, every state will require proof of lawful presence, she said.

Browning said: "If you compare the frustration with the long term gains of knowing all of the state of Missouri's licenses and permits are truly valid then I think it's a good trade off."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.