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State review concludes that conflicting laws put Missouri Department of Revenue in a box

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: A review by the state auditor's office concludes that the Missouri Department of Revenue is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to processing driver's licenses. No matter what it does, it’s violating a state law. The only question is: Which one?

A similar quandary involves the federal REAL ID mandates, which the department is supposed to ignore under a General Assembly decree four years ago. However, the review warns that Missouri driver’s licenses soon might not be recognized as valid IDs under federal law, unless legislators relent.

Today, state Auditor Tom Schweich issued his office’s findings detailing the legal challenges facing the Department of Revenue.  The review had been requested by legislators furious over the Department of Revenue’s collection and retention of copies of certain personal documents needed for drivers licenses and identity cards.

The review -- the auditor's office says it's not officially an "audit" -- concludes that the Department of Revenue failed to recognize the identity-theft risks posed by retaining copies of birth certificates, passports and other documents required for drivers licenses.

If such documents are retained, improved security procedures need to be adopted, the report said.

The Department of Revenue also “violated state law by failing to promulgate a rule before requiring contract license offices to begin scanning” such documents, the review said. But if the department had promulgated such a rule, that would have violated state law as well, the review added.

Schweich recommends that the General Assembly consider changing state law “so that DOR can take actions to make (driver's licenses and ID cards) more secure while also protecting the personal information of private citizens.”

In a statement, the Department of Revenue replied, "The auditor’s report confirms what the department has said from the outset: The department followed state law prohibiting compliance with REAL ID and fulfilled its duty to provide safe and secure state-issued photo IDs while protecting the privacy of Missourians."

The legislative scrutiny came as a result of a lawsuit that challenged the department’s retention of copies of such documents, as well as concealed-carry permits.  The lawsuit was dropped earlier this month, the review said.

In any case the legislative probe also resulted in allegations that the Department of Revenue was violating a 2009 state law that bars it from complying with federal REAL ID requirements for the issuance of drivers licenses and photo IDs.

Schweich's review noted the dilemma produced by that law because of an earlier state law imposing more requirements on the documents that people needed to produce to obtain a drivers license, by verifying their identity and citizenship.

REAL ID requirements are supposed to be met before state's drivers licenses can be used as IDs to board airplanes, access federal buildings or nuclear plants. So far, federal enforcement of those restrictions have been delayed -- but the review warned that the situation may soon change.

As of last winter, the review said, "there were 19 states complying with the (REAL ID) Act, including the neighboring states of Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Tennessee; while 16 states, including Missouri and Oklahoma, have laws prohibiting compliance with the Act."

The review notes, "Requirements of the act include retaining the application and source documents used to process state-issued" drivers licenses.

Highway Patrol in the clear

The review also looked into the legislative allegation that the Missouri state Highway Patrol had violated state law because it shared information about concealed-carry permits with the federal Social Security Administration.  The review concludes that the patrol broke no law, but that the Department of Revenue and the state’s Office of Administration “lacked a written agreement” authorizing them to provide the information.

(As it turns out, for technical reasons, the Social Security Administration was unable to access the information from the discs provided by the Highway Patrol.)

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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