Texas AG Gives Conditional Approval to Enhanced Driver’s Licenses

January 24, 2008

Attorney General Greg Abbott has given conditional approval to a state plan to create driver’s licenses that store citizenship information for faster and easier border crossings.

Abbott’s ruling said the program would be consistent with federal law as long as the government deemed the documents to be sufficient as proof of identity and citizenship and as long as the technology met federal guidelines.

The Texas Legislature approved a pilot program last year to create driver’s licenses with citizenship information that could be used in place of a passport at land and sea ports.

The licenses are intended to help border crossers meet federal identification requirements without clogging traffic and trade routes. Starting Jan. 31, border crossers will have to present a government-issued photo ID (such as a driver’s license) along with proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate or naturalization certificate) in order to enter or depart the U.S. by land or sea.

Gov. Rick Perry has delayed starting the state program and sought Abbott’s opinion on whether the enhanced licenses would meet stricter federal requirements.

Perry spokeswoman Krista Piferrer said the program remains under review. Perry is working with the Department of Homeland security to ensure the licenses would not be invalidated later. He is also waiting for the Texas Department of Public Safety’s estimate of the program’s cost, she said.

“We need to be responsible for the program that we implement to ensure we’re not, down the line, wasting taxpayers’ money,” Piferrer said.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, the author of the bill creating the program, said it’s modeled after an enhanced driver’s license program in Washington state that began Jan. 21.

He said Texas shouldn’t delay any longer.

“We need to get on with the program,” the El Paso Democrat said. “Our border needs to move people and product safer, faster and smarter.”

The Department of Homeland Security approved Washington’s enhanced licenses, and an agency lawyer notified Abbott last year that the Texas proposal would be compliant with federal law.

Information from: El Paso Times, www.elpasotimes.com

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