Panel hears Real ID testimony

Law enforcement officers and legislators on a special House panel raised doubts Wednesday about assertions that Missouri officials have done nothing to comply with a federal proof-of-identity law.

The special investigatory committee took sworn testimony Wednesday from Jackie Bemboom, the director of Missouri’s motor vehicle and driver’s license division, during a lengthy hearing that at times resulted in raised voices and tense questioning.

The panel also voted to subpoena five current members of Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration and a former Cabinet official to testify Thursday about Missouri’s driver’s license procedures and any attempts to conform with the federal Real ID Act.

A 2009 Missouri law forbids officials from taking steps to comply with the goals of the Real ID Act, a 2005 anti-terrorism law that sets stringent requirements for photo identification cards to be accepted to board plans or enter federal buildings.

Bemboom insisted that Missouri officials have not tried to comply with the federal Real ID Act — though she acknowledged that some recent security improvements to Missouri’s driver’s license procedures may also meet Real ID standards.

The state Department of Revenue, which oversees driver’s licenses, sent a Dec. 12, 2012 memo to federal Homeland Security authorities documenting how Missouri’s license requirements are “comparable to or exceed” many Real ID standards. Bemboom said that was not meant to show the state was carrying out the Real ID Act but rather to make the case that Missouri’s licenses should be accepted at airports and federal buildings.

“We were saying we were not complying, but we had security and integrity of the license,” Bemboom said.

That explanation didn’t sit well with some members of the Bipartisan Investigatory Committee on Privacy Protection, which was appointed by House Speaker Tim Jones.

Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan, who is a member of committee, pointed to an April 21, 2011 letter that Bemboom sent administrators of a federal grant program. She wrote that although state law “generally prohibits participation in REAL ID,” Missouri has “worked hard to implement a program for issuing driver licenses and identification cards with security standards consistent with the standards of the REAL ID Act.”

“It appears this is a duck, and you’re trying to tell us this is a goose,” Jordan told Bemboom.

Osage County Sheriff Michael Dixon was more direct about the department’s actions.

“This is a violation of the (state) law, in my opinion,” he told Bemboom.

Missouri law says the Department of Revenue “shall not amend procedures for applying for a driver’s license or identification card in order to comply with the goals or standards of the federal Real ID Act.”

Committee member Gary Fuhr, a retired FBI agent and former Republican state House member from St. Louis County, said officials in Missouri’s licensing division appeared to be carefully parsing the state law against taking steps to comply with Real ID.

“The law didn’t say you couldn’t do it because of Real ID,” Fuhr said. “The law says specifically that you cannot comply with the goals or standards of the Real ID Act.”

Legislators in about half the states have passed measures opposing the implementation of Real ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Missouri’s legislative investigatory panel is an outgrowth of a several-month-long controversy that arose after the state in December began making electronic copies of personal documents — such as birth certificates — that are submitted by license applicants. The state also began using an out-of-state contractor to print and mail driver’s licenses instead of issuing them on the spot to applicants.

Bemboom said the delayed issuance and electronic database of documents are important anti-fraud measures. Her testimony came on the same day that Deborah Flores, of St. Joseph, was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison for her role in what U.S. attorneys described as a $5 million conspiracy that got more than 3,500 fraudulent ID cards from a St. Joseph license office for people living in the country illegally.

As part of its new licensing procedures, Missouri in December also began making electronic copies of concealed gun permits from people seeking state ID cards, but it has since stopped doing so.

During hearings held earlier this year by a Senate committee, state officials acknowledged that a separate database of concealed gun permit holders had been shared several times with a fraud investigator for the federal Social Security Administration. But federal officials testified that they never used the database and ultimately destroyed it.

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