Officials eye “enhanced driver’s license” pilot program

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(Host) Vermont transportation officials are keeping a close watch on a pilot program in the state of Washington that will allow individuals to travel to Canada without a passport.

The plan calls for the development of an “enhanced driver’s license” that will include proof of citizenship.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Unless Congress amends current law, people who travel by car to Canada or Mexico will have to show a passport at the border beginning next year.

Many members of Congress and governors in the northern border states are working to overturn this provision of the Homeland Security law because they believe it will discourage tourism and business traffic with Canada.

Officials in the state of Washington are also very concerned that the passport plan will interfere with travel between their state and British Columbia during the 2010 Winter Olympics that will be held in Vancouver.

Under the pilot program, individuals will be able to apply for a special driver’s license.

The document would look like a normal license but it would also include radio frequency chips that would store pertinent information such as proof of citizenship. The license could then be scanned at border crossings.

Vermont Motor Vehicles Commissioner Bonnie Rutledge is intrigued by the plan.

(Rutledge) “I see it as a real benefit for the citizens who pass back and forth across the border a lot, you know, on their daily business as opposed to have to get either the pass card or a passport. So I’m going to be watching it with interest to see how it does go in Washington because I think it would be a good thing for Vermont if it works well.”

(Kinzel) The Homeland Security law also calls on all states to issue what are known as “REAL ID Compliant” driver’s licenses during 2008. But Rutledge says Vermont will seek an extension to postpone this mandate until 2010.

Under this law, all new drivers will have to present their birth certificates when they get a license and all current drivers will have to do the same thing when they renew their license. Rutledge says it’s a staggering amount of additional work for her department:

(Rutledge) “The period right now in the draft rules, if UI ask for the extension which I fully intend to do and start issuing real Id Compliant Drivers license January 1st, 2010 and everybody has to be in the system by the end of 2013 it compresses my four year renewal cycle into 3 years. So we’ll be seeing more people in a shorter period of time.”

(Kinzel) It’s estimated that it will cost the state several million dollars a year to comply with the new federal law. Congress is expected to consider legislation that would provide states with some of this money.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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