I recently had another birthday. It wasn’t a big one that ended in a zero or anything like that, but it became a birthday of monumental proportions because of one essential task: the need to renew my Florida Driver License! (Cue horror music and bloodcurdling scream.)
I’ve had a Florida Driver License since sometime in the 1980s – pre-historic by today’s standards. I’ve had a Post Office Box address even longer. It’s where I’ve received mail for the better part of three decades in Paradise. Until recently, there was never a problem with my primary mailing address being the address for my Florida Driver License. So what was it that changed everything? The Real ID Act of 2006! (Cue horror music and yet another bloodcurdling scream.)
Another of the legislative reactions to 9/11, this bill was designed to keep potential terrorists from getting US-issued driver licenses so that they would – theoretically – not be able to board aircraft. What it actually does is add more red tape and frustration to the lives of normal citizens just trying to renew their driver licenses before they expire.
So there I was, a normal citizen, just going in to renew my license. It had never been a problem in the past – take an eye test, pose for an unflattering photo, write a check, and move on with life. Not so fast, citizen! Even though I’ve been a licensed driver in the State of Florida with the same address for over a quarter-century, it wasn’t good enough anymore. I would need to go and bring back multiple documents that would help me prove that I was who I claimed to be.
First of all, I needed a Birth Certificate or valid US Passport to prove my identity. Secondly, I needed my Social Security Card or a tax document or a pay stub with my SSN to prove I was signed up with Social Security. Thirdly, I needed to bring in multiple documents that could prove my residential address – utility bills, lease documents, tax bills, a voter registration card, or mortgage statements with my name and address on them – so that the State and Feds would have ample paper proof of where I live. No more P.O. Box addresses, citizen!
My first visit to renew my license was easy. There was no one waiting ahead of me in line. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I also didn’t have most of the documents I needed. Damn. Back to the house, and then back to the license office, where six people now waited ahead of me. Damn. And even though I put out all the extra effort, the photo remained unflattering. Damn.
It could have been far worse. Consider the case of West Palm Beach resident Carl Lust. The 46-year-old corrections officer found out that his name had been changed because of a custody battle, and that his Birth Certificate would not be sufficient to prove his identity. As USA Today reported, “After his driver’s license expired, he couldn’t open a bank account, cash a check or change jobs. He had to make special arrangements to pick up his kids from school because the school requires ID.” It took Carl from February to September of 2010 to finally get his license back – but only after the Governor’s Office intervened and granted an exception. Unfortunately, Carl’s case is not the exception.
Elderly, minorities, and people born in rural areas – people whose birth documentation may be in error, damaged, or simply unavailable – are suffering the most under these burdensome regulations. People are being denied their Social Security checks and Medicare coverage because they don’t have a valid ID. But hey, it’s all in the name of Homeland Security, right?
The State of Florida has set up an educational program called, in unmistakable governmentspeak, Gather Go Get. It’s online at www.gathergoget.com, and it has all the information you need to renew your license. It might have helped if the first place I saw it wasn’t the driver license office on the day I came to renew my license…