W.Va. one of few states ready to meet deadline for Real ID
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - One year after implementing new federal identification requirements, officials at the state Division of Motor Vehicles say state residents appear to be adjusting to the change.
After some initial rounds of complaints, residents trying to obtain or renew their driver's licenses seem to be getting used to federal Real ID Act regulations, said DMV spokeswoman Natalie Harvey.
The DMV processes about 400,000 applications for new licenses or renewals each year. As of Monday, about 40 percent of all state driver's licenses had been issued according to Real ID guidelines, according to agency data.
"We are thrilled with the progress we've made," Harvey said.
"The word has definitely gotten out, and we're doing all we can to make this process as easy on folks as possible, staying within the federal guidelines," she said.
The state DMV implemented provisions of the federal Real ID Act - which enforces stringent proof-of-identity requirements for anyone trying to get a photo ID - on Jan. 3, 2012.
West Virginia is one of only 13 states to meet the upcoming Jan. 15 deadline to comply with the act.
The post-9/11 law proposed by President George W. Bush and passed by Congress in 2005 was designed to boost security in the identification process.
All but one of the 19 terrorists who hijacked airplanes on that day in 2001 had identification cards that should not have been issued.
The Real ID Act was Congress' effort to keep that from happening again.
Anyone renewing a driver's license or applying for a new one now must show DMV workers specific documents as proof of their identity and residency. Residents must produce an official copy of their birth certificate or a U.S. passport before getting a license.
The act requires the DMV to scan these documents and store them permanently.
The process is more complicated for women who have changed their names through marriage or divorce. Rules require that they provide official copies of their marriage certificates and divorce orders to verify the name changes.
The new requirements have infuriated some state residents, especially seniors, because of the time and effort it takes to track down the necessary documentation.
State lawmakers earlier this year pressed DMV Commissioner Joe Miller to change the requirements. Delegates and senators told Miller they had been flooded with complaints from citizens, many of whom had had state-issued drivers licenses for decades.
"I can't tell you how many phone calls I'm getting about folks in their 50s and 60s who think that it is unjust to have to go through this process to go through and dig up this material," Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, said during a budget hearing last February.
Miller told frustrated lawmakers that the state's hands were tied. He said changes to the requirements could come only on the federal level.
Harvey said Monday the name-change guidelines were the most frustrating for DMV customers.
"Probably our biggest challenge was the documentation," Harvey said. "That's what we heard the most from folks."
But she said the state was able to implement a significant change during the spring that helped alleviate the problem.
The state began allowing drivers to use a U.S. Department of Homeland Security-approved document called a name change variance form.
The form allows drivers age 50 and older to get around some of the name change documentation requirements required by the Real ID Act.
"If you are over the age of 50, the Department for Homeland Security considers you an acceptable risk," Harvey said.
As long as those drivers provide the other proof of identity and residence documentation, they can get around the rules requiring full documentation of their name changes through either marriage or divorce.
"If you're missing a name change document, but we can still verify your identity and address, you can fill out this name change variance form," Harvey said.
"This has been a big help to our customers."
Harvey said the change has reduced the number of complaints received by the DMV's toll-free call center.
"Instead of complaints, most of the calls we receive now are more for information on documentation and to confirm they have the proper paperwork," she said.
The DMV operates the call center, which can be reached at 800-642-9066, to provide people with information on licensing and other requirements without having to visit a DMV office.
Information is also available online at the DMV's website, www.dmv.wv.gov.
Harvey said people should call or visit the website to double-check the requirements and make sure they have everything they need to avoid having to make repeat visits to DMV offices.
"We encourage folks if they do have any questions at all, please call us or check the website," she said.
"We want to make sure that we can take care of customers as quickly and efficiently as possible," she said. "We hope they ask as many questions beforehand; that way, when they come in, they can process them as expeditiously as possible."
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5148.