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Government, Politics & Issues

United for Missouri begins ad blitz on Department of Revenue dispute

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: A conservative group is turning up the heat on Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration for a continued dispute regarding the Department of Revenue’s digital copying -- and retaining -- of documents to renew driver’s licenses or other sources of identification.

United for Missouri began a radio and television blitz this week to bring attention to the controversy, which was sparked last month when a Stoddard County man tried to get a conceal and carry endorsement on his driver’s license.

United for Missouri executive director Carl Bearden told the Beacon that radio ads would begin on Monday across the state. Television ads – which feature Bearden, a former St. Charles Republican state legislator – would begin on Tuesday, he said.

“Basically we’re calling on the governor to take action,” said Bearden in a telephone interview. “To get the department to come clean, cease and desist. Then we want an independent, comprehensive audit of the department.”

Bearden said the TV ads will run on network television. He added that the radio and television spots will cost about $400,000 for the first week. He also declined to disclose the funding for the ads. (United for Missouri is a politically active nonprofit that is not required to give out information about donors.)

At issue is the procedure undertaken for somebody to receive a new driver’s license or state identification cards. The department recently installed new equipment that electronically scans and stores copies of the documents, such as birth certificates. After a few days, a person requesting a new license or ID eventually receives it in the mail.

The aforementioned Stoddard County man eventually sued, arguing that scanning birth certificates and concealed weapons endorsements into a computer system could be shared with the federal government or other entities. Stoddard County Circuit Judge Robert Mayer – a former Missouri Republican state senator – declined to issue a preliminary injunction on the matter late last week.

St. Louis Public Radio reported that Department of Revenue director Brian Long recently told a House committee that his agency undertook the policy to combat fraud and that it isn’t sharing information from scanned documents with the federal government or any third-party agencies.

The department also has linked the policy to the federal anti-terrorism law passed during Republican George W. Bush's administration, which added identification requirements to people seeking driver's licenses, to prevent would-be terrorists from obtaining such documents. Several of the 9/11 hijackers had American driver's licenses.

Still, the issue has continued to attract plenty of attention in the Missouri General Assembly. For instance, the House approved a budgetary amendment aimed prohibiting the Department of Revenue from the scanning and retaining of personal information.

And the Missouri Senate issued a subpoena that demands more information about the practice, a move that must be fulfilled by 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Bearden said that his group wants “a full and comprehensive audit” of the department conducted by the legislature and the state auditor.

“The collection of the data is troublesome,” Bearden said. “I remember when we were working the Real ID bill when it was in the legislature. And we had agreed that you should show your birth certificate and stuff like that. But we did not approve or agree that it should be kept in a database of any sort – state or federal.”

Nixon pressed on situation in Kirkwood

Reporters asked Nixon about the Senate subpoena after he spoke last week in Kirkwood. The governor was in town to push for an expansion to the state's Medicaid program.

“I’m sure our various departments will be cooperative and make sure they get any documents they want,” Nixon told reporters. “I think at the hearing [earlier in March] it was pretty clear that our folks were doing what was required by law and not keeping some list or sending some secret list off somewhere. But certainly those documents will be made available.”

Asked if information was being shipped to the Department of Homeland Security, Nixon – who emphasized that he was out of the country when legislative hearings took place – replied “testimony was pretty clear there’s none of that going on.”

“I understand people’s concerns about privacy,” Nixon said.

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