Law could lead to longer lines at DMV

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Alabama’s recently passed immigration law could have the “unintended consequence” of doing away with Shelby County’s online and mail-in vehicle tag renewal system, and could lead to “huge headaches” at the county’s license offices, according to a county official.

House Bill 56, which deals with illegal immigrants in Alabama and was passed by the Alabama Legislature during its 2011 session, requires anyone applying for or renewing a driver’s license or car tag in the state to present two forms of identification in person.

“The new law makes it impossible for us to renew tags and licenses online. It requires us to verify the person’s identity, and you can’t do that online,” Shelby County Finance Manager Butch Burbage said, noting he does not think mail-in renewals will be allowed either.

According to the bill, in order to renew or apply for a driver’s license, a person must physically travel to one of the county’s three driver’s license offices and present two of the following forms of identification: either a driver’s license or non-driver identification card, the applicant’s U.S. birth certificate, the applicant’s passport, certain documents issued by the federal government, the applicant’s U.S. naturalization documents or document number.

An applicant can also show Bureau of Indian Affairs documents, their consular report of birth abroad, a certificate issued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a certification of report of birth by the U.S. Department of State, an American Indian card, an adoption decree, a U.S. military record of service showing the person’s place of birth in the United States or an extract from the applicant’s hospital record showing the person’s place of birth in the United States.

The new regulations are set to go into effect on Sept. 1, unless a federal judge rules sections of the bill unconstitutional before then, said Burbage, who is over the county’s license offices in Pelham, Inverness and Columbiana.

The online renewal system, which has been operational for about 10 years, will operate until midnight on Aug. 31 for those who are scheduled to renew in August.

Because the immigration law requires the county to verify the identity of anyone conducting a “business transaction,” it could also require anyone renewing a hunting or fishing, business license or boating license to also do so at the office.

Last year, Shelby County saw “well over” 200,000 vehicle registrations and business license applications. Under the new law, all of those transactions would have to be conducted in one of the county’s three offices.

“It doesn’t go into effect until Sept. 1. We are scrambling right now. It’s going to cause some serious heartburn,” Burbage said, noting recent county cutbacks have reduced staff at the three offices.

“Our people will have to cinch up their belts. We will live through it, but it’s the people of Shelby County that are going to suffer,” Burbage said. “We are going to have some crowds.”

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the abolishment of the online and mail-in renewal system was an “unintended consequence” of the immigration bill.

“As a legislature, we will definitely have to address that next year. That’s something we are going to have to fix,” Ward said. “This is a problem that came up that was not intended.”