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Government, Politics & Issues

Bipartisan panel to look into controversy over scanning of gun permits

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Jefferson County’s veteran Sheriff Glenn Boyer is among a group of law-enforcement experts tapped by Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones to serve on “an independent, bipartisan investigative committee” to delve into the continued controversy over the state Department of Revenue’s handling of such documents as concealed-carry permits and birth certificates.

At a news conference today in the state Capitol, the speaker said his aim is “to determine the extent of the scandal, find those responsible, and make sure they are held accountable.”

Jones, R-Eureka, said he also wants the committee “to help develop solutions to ensure this does not happen again.” The panel is slated to submit its findings in September.

Jones’ action also may be aimed at tamping down the partisan rancor in Jefferson City over the Department of Revenue’s practice within the past year of scanning and retaining copies of personal documents – such as birth certificates, passports and marriage licenses – that people must submit before obtaining a driver’s license.

His announcement also comes amid a pushback by Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration, which has pointed to almost two dozen improper attempts in recent days by someone in the state House to access the online database where the scanned copies are stored. Jones told reporters Monday that the computer attempts -- 23, according to one count -- were made with his knowledge to determine whether the database had adequate protections preventing access. The computer attempts were unsuccessful.

At the same time, some GOP legislators may want to tamp down the tensions over the scanned documents because of an unrelated last-minute deal that requires the governor’s support.

The state House approved last Thursday a $121 million capital-improvements package, including $50 million to renovate the state Capitol and $38 million to purchase a building near the Capitol to revamp for use as office space for some state workers now housed in the Capitol.  The package, part of the proposed FY2014 budget, is significant larger than Nixon’s initial proposal. If approved by the Senate, the deal also will require the support of the governor, who has line-item veto powers.

Scanning of concealed-carry permits set off debate

The furor over the scanned documents arose when some gun owners balked because the retained documents initially included concealed-carry permits, which the bearers often add as an “endorsement’’ on their driver’s license. At least one lawsuit has been filed challenging the practice of scanning the permits.

Republicans got further incensed when they learned that the state’s Highway Patrol had allowed federal investigators to look at the database as part of an anti-fraud investigation.

Nixon has ordered that concealed-carry permits no longer be scanned, and Department of Revenue chief Brian Long recently stepped down. But the governor has defended most of the department’s practices regarding driver’s licenses, saying they’re in line with efforts to improve security and prevent fraud.

Some Republican members of the General Assembly have, in turn, accused Nixon – a Democrat – of attempting to comply with the federal REAL ID mandate (part of the anti-terrorism push since 9/11). Nixon’s staff has denied that’s the case.

In his statement announcing the committee, Jones said the bipartisan panel’s charge is “to find the truth about why license documents were being scanned and stored and why a complete list of concealed-carry weapons permit holders was shared with the federal government… I hope that Gov. Nixon will work with this committee to help provide the clear answers we need.”

Besides Boyer, other members of the panel include:

  • Stoddard County Prosecutor Russ Oliver;
  • Audrain County Sheriff Stuart Miller;
  • Omar Davis, former general counsel and former director of the Department of Revenue;
  • Former state Rep. Gary Fuhr, a retired FBI agent and Republican elections director with St. Louis County’s Board of Elections;
  • Randolph County Prosecutor Mike Fusselman.

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