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Senate threatens to hold up Revenue budget in flap over licenses

Senate threatens to hold up Revenue budget in flap over licenses

Department fails to provide senator with requested paperwork

March 29th, 2013 in News

Missouri's Revenue department may be violating state law by turning over to a contractor the cameras that have been used for taking license pictures, as new equipment is being installed.

The state Senate's floor leader promised Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer on Thursday that the Senate would not take up the agency's budget "until you are satisfied with their answers."

Sen. Ron Richard's pledge is the latest step in an ongoing tug-of-war between the Legislature and the Revenue department over the process used to issue driver's and non-driver's licenses and the permits issued to Missourians who qualify to carry concealed weapons.

Revenue spokesman Ted Farnen said in an e-mail late Thursday afternoon: "As the Department previously informed the Senate Appropriations Committee staff, the equipment being removed from the fee offices is not state property. As provided for in the contract, the contractor retains ownership of its equipment."

The department announced the license-processing change last November, saying its contract with MorphoTrust would provide Missourians with a safer process that's more likely to prevent fraud than the process the state used over the past few years, of issuing licenses within minutes after taking the information and the person's picture.

Based on complaints this year from some fee office operators and Missouri residents disturbed by the new process, some lawmakers accused the Revenue department of implementing procedures required by the federal "Real ID" law - even though the Missouri General Assembly several years ago prohibited the state from complying with it.

One Missourian filed a lawsuit in Stoddard County against the local fee office agent, saying the new procedures violated state law and resulted in private, personal information being turned over to the federal government as part of the Real ID law.

After issuing a temporary restraining order earlier in the month, Circuit Judge Robert N. Mayer on Wednesday dissolved the temporary order and refused to issue a permanent one.

"The Plaintiff has failed to provide any evidence, other than hearsay evidence, that the Defendants have disseminated (information) to the Federal Government," Mayer wrote in a two-page order the Revenue Department provided to the News Tribune on Thursday. "The court finds that the issuance of a Preliminary Injunction in this case would inflict injury on other interested parties and the public interest."

Still, when Schaefer recently was shown evidence on a federal Homeland Security department website that Missouri was working to implement the Real ID law, the Senate Appropriations Committee asked to see the department's paperwork.

When the department didn't answer that request, the Senate issued a subpoena requiring the department to provide the documents no later than 4:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Richard's pledge to hold debate on Revenue's budget followed Schaefer's announcement on the Senate floor that Revenue had sent him a message that the "old" license-processing equipment was going to the contractor as the new equipment is installed.

"If this is, in fact, what's happening," Schaefer, R-Columbia, told Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, about the release of the existing equipment, "it's pretty disturbing."

Schaefer told Dempsey: "The fee offices have equipment that we bought, with public money, to issue driver's licenses.

"It appears that, under the contract (with) MorphoTrust, MorphoTrust comes in and takes the old equipment - and it becomes the property of MorphoTrust (and) MorphoTrust destroys it."

Schaefer said he learned about the equipment destruction Wednesday, after sending Revenue a letter last week asking for documents and saying: "Whatever you're doing with the equipment that we just recently bought, that you're taking out of these fee offices, you need to keep it - because we may ... go back to that form of driver's license issuance."

If the General Assembly decides to override the new licensing procedures and go back to issuing licenses at the local fee office, Schaefer said, "and we ultimately want that equipment put back, (we could be) told, "Sorry. It doesn't exist.' Now, if you want that back, we're going to have to replace it for X millions of dollars - otherwise, no one can get a driver's license."

Richard, R-Joplin, told Schaefer: "If we have to go into special session on their budget, we will go through the budget process (but) we will not go to their budget until you are satisfied with their answers."