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The driver’s license test gets tougher

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Under state and federal legislation enacted this year, renewing a driver’s license will become more complicated and time-consuming. The semi-good news is that it won’t happen immediately. The 2005 Arkansas legislature approved the “Driver’s License Security and Modernization Act,” which will take effect Jan. 31. After that date, people seeking an Arkansas driver’s license for the first time (mostly young people who’ve just reached the age of 14) will have to produce more proof of identity and more proof that they’re in the country legally. A certain amount of this sort of documentation already is required for first-time applicants. Birth certificates, Social Security cards and draft registrations are among the papers that can be used. The new Arkansas law makes no substantial change in the requirements for renewal of a driver’s license. Renewals account for more than 90 percent of the 720,000 licenses issued in Arkansas each year. All that’s required for renewal now is passing an eye examination and having a new photograph made to put on the license. That procedure essentially will continue even after Jan. 31. For awhile, that is. But a big shoe is waiting to drop, in the form of federal legislation approved last week. The federal law, too, will require more documentation for getting a driver’s license, as part of the federal government’s anti-terrorism program. Until now, the federals have left driver licensing to the states. The federal law differs from the state law in that it will apply to renewals as well as to first-time licenses. It’s known that one thing that eventually will be required is something to prove residency in the state — a utility bill, a mortgage, a lease, for example. Preston Means, assistant commissioner of revenue, said that the state won’t know the full extent of the federal requirements until the federal government adopts regulations implementing the new law. At the moment, the state doesn’t even know when those regulations will be adopted, except that it’ll be sometime in the next three years. That’s the deadline for states to comply with the federal law. The Revenue Division will issue news releases as new requirements become effective, Means said. “We want to make sure that taxpayers have all the documents they need, so they can do it all in one trip,” he said. Some things about the new federal requirements are certain, Means said. “There’ll be a lot more burden placed on the taxpayer. It will take longer to issue the license. The taxpayer will have to spend more time in the office.” It remains to be seen whether the new requirements will bother terrorists. But they’ll certainly bother the rest of us.

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