Our Opinion: Privacy, politics, permits and procedures

The News Tribune

Combine privacy concerns, politics and the “supremacy clause,” shake vigorously and the result may resemble the controversy over Missouri driver’s license processing.

And Gov. Jay Nixon’s announcement Tuesday, ending the Revenue Department’s copying of concealed weapons permits, may not put the matter to rest.

The dust-up began in early March after state lawmakers received a complaint that, as part of the procedure for issuing driver’s licenses, the Department of Revenue was recording concealed-carry permits and sharing the information with federal authorities.

Some Missouri Republicans are outraged; they contend members of the Democratic governor’s administration have exceeded their authority. GOP critics cite a 2009 state decision to protect privacy through non-compliance with provisions of the 2005 federal Real ID measure.

The dispute has escalated in recent weeks, with legislative time devoted to subjecting Revenue officials to questioning. One consequence is the abrupt resignation Monday of agency director Brian Long, who cited the “toll on me and my family.”

This entire issue is a briar patch.

At the moment, perhaps the least thorny issue is the U.S. Constitution’s “supremacy clause,” which provides that federal law takes precedence over state law when the two clash.

The federal government has provided additional time for non-compliant states, including Missouri, to conform or face airline travel restrictions imposed by the Homeland Security Department’s Transportation Safety Administration.

More thorny is the privacy issue.

Some people fiercely oppose government encroachments on personal privacy. An irony is some of those same people voluntarily surrender private information on the Internet or through other forms of social media.

Nevertheless, personal privacy is a right that deserves maximum protection, when not in conflict with reasonable public protections aboard airlines flights, in courtrooms, etc.

Which brings us to the complication that is politics.

Republican House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has called on Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster to appoint a committee to investigate the breach.

Koster has announced he will attempt to succeed Nixon in 2016 and Jones has been mentioned as a possible contender for Koster’s office. A recent news conference called by Jones was held not at his Capitol office, but in front of Koster’s office in the Supreme Court Building.

How can Missouri find its way out of the thicket?

First, respect the Missouri directive of non-compliance with Real ID. Unless and until the federal government insists on compliance or invokes sanctions, the supremacy clause is not at issue.

Second, establish an administrative procedure consistent with Missouri law. Whether that procedure is handled by the state Revenue Department or by county sheriffs, who issue concealed-carry permits, is a topic for discussion among policy-makers.

Last, save the politics for a later date. There’s plenty of time to jockey for positions before 2016.

The legislative session will end in mid-May and numerous proposals, including a budget, await action.

The privacy dispute is important, but it would be a mistake to allow it to overshadow other legislative priorities.

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