VT may require young drivers to register for selective service

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(Host) Young men who are eligible for military service may soon face a new requirement when they go to get a Vermont driver’s license.

They may also have to sign up for the federal Selective Service System.

Vermont peace activists are worried, because that’s the system used for a military draft.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Forty states now use their driver’s license applications to register men with the federal government.

David Pinkham is Vermont’s part-time director of Selective Service. He said the agency faces serious budget cuts, and the legislation would be an effective way to make sure that 18- to 26-year-old males are signed up.

(Pinkham) "And the process is going on because we in Selective Service want to get every man registered in order to be fair should a draft ever come. We want to have everybody on the rolls if that’s the case."

(Dillon) But Joseph Gainza of the American Friends Service Committee – A Quaker-based peace group – objected to the federal government using the state license to gather names for a potential draft.

Gainza told the House Transportation Committee that the automatic registration will be difficult for people who are philosophically opposed to war. Gainza said that conscientious objectors sometimes choose not to register for the draft.

Gainza says he counsels potential objectors that if they fail to register they are ineligible for federal student loans and could face jail time.

(Gainza) "Those are fairly hefty penalties. They should not have an additional penalty of not being able to make a living here in Vermont, because without a car, you can’t make a living in this state unless you work at home. We think this is punitive against people of conscience."

(Dillon) Gainza didn’t get much sympathy from Clarendon Democrat David Potter. He’s a Vietnam vet, and said he chose a military career after he got his draft notice. Potter said people should be required to register for Selective Service.

(Potter) "To me that’s an obligation, that every male that benefits from the freedom that our country has when you turn 18 that’s an obligation you should undertake."

(Dillon) The law only applies to draft age men. And in Vermont, 86 percent of those eligible actually sign up with Selective Service. In New Hampshire, 95 percent register. Gainza said Vermont’s low rate shows that some people deliberately choose to avoid potential military service.

(Gainza) "I think it has a lot to do with Vermont being an independent way of thinking and there are a lot of people who feel they don’t want to participate in this."

(Dillon) But some members of the committee said some young people just don’t know that they have to register. They said the government needs to do a better job of getting the word out.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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