Md. Drivers Facing Longer Lines, Frustration on License Renewal to Comply with Federal Law

Drivers licenses that comply with federal REAL ID law have a small star in the upper right. (MVA image) Drivers licenses that comply with federal REAL ID law have a small star in the upper right. (MVA image)

COLUMBIA, Md. (February 8, 2019)—Maryland drivers are facing longer lines and frustrating revisits to state offices over the next year when they renew their licenses due to tougher requirements for licenses that comply with the federal REAL ID law, legislators heard last week.

Sixty percent of Maryland's almost 3 million licensed drivers must submit new documentation to prove age, identity and residence by October 2020, or they will be denied access to federal facilities and to boarding commercial aircraft.

The new compliant ID cards have a small star on them, but even hundreds of thousands of Marylanders issued driver's licenses in 2016 and 2017 that have the star must now submit extra documentation to make sure their licenses truly comply with the federal requirements.

Wait times and visit times at Motor Vehicle Administration offices have been going down for the past five years from about 35 minutes to 25 minutes, but those times are likely to increase, state transportation officials told senators at a Jan. 31 budget hearing.

"We're committed to delivering on the governor's promise of customer service," said Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, "but the processing time takes longer" with the extra federal requirements for documents.

Documents required

These documents include birth certificates, marriage certificates to prove a change of name, a Social Security card or tax forms, and proofs of Maryland residence.

"This is federal law," Rahn said. "We're ahead of many states," such as Pennsylvania, which has not been issuing compliant licenses.

Rather than processing about 10,000 driver license renewals a month, MVA is now processing about 100,000 drivers licenses a month, said MVA Administrator Christine Nizer. "It's quite a challenge" and the agency is adding staff to deal with the increased walk-in transactions.

Senators see consequences

Senators had already seen the consequences of the new requirements. In one case, Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, R-Dundalk, said a woman presented an original birth certificate and an original marriage certificate, and the MVA employee asked for an "official copy" of both.

Nizer said that the MVA was not accepting old birth certificates issued by hospitals. But the birth certificate the MVA rejected was actually issued by the Maryland health department, embossed and on paper watermarked with the state seal. (I saw the document.)

"They're going to be forced to make copies of things they have the originals of," Salling complained.

Sen. Doug Peters, D-Bowie, chair of the subcommittee reviewing the MVA budget, had direct experience of the new REAL ID process. "This is my favorite department because I have six kids," he joked.

Getting a learner's permit for one of his sons, Peters said they had to leave the MVA's Largo office to get a birth certificate from an Anne Arundel County health department office, and found eight people in line there for the same reason related to REAL ID. Here is information about getting a Maryland birth certificate.

"It's just taking a lot longer to get things processed," Peters said. "It's a lot more work. You have to scan all these different documents."

"This is probably going to be a big issue for us," Peters said.

Drivers, like me, who already have an apparently compliant license with a star on it, are supposed to be notified to bring in the documentation. Or you can check the MVA website and put in your soundex number to see if you must come in.

A current passport will suffice to prove age and identity, rather than copies of birth certificates and marriage licenses.

The MVA website has full information about the documentation required.

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