More border states plan to ease travel with enhanced licenses
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By Cara Matthews and Matthew Daneman, USA TODAY
A growing number of states on the borders with Canada and Mexico are establishing or considering enhanced driver's licenses designed to give residents a more convenient identification option for border crossings.
In February, Washington became the first state to establish the new licenses. To receive a license labeled "enhanced," applicants are required to show proof of U.S. citizenship in addition to the other identification documents required for obtaining traditional licenses.
Since then, 21,000 Washington residents have received the licenses, which allow them to get back into the USA through any border crossing or seaport without a passport, according to Department of Licensing spokeswoman Gigi Zenk.
New York and Vermont will follow in coming months. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano has proposed the idea for residents there, and Michigan is working toward a plan.
The move toward enhanced driver's licenses in states bordering Canada and Mexico is being driven by the federal Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. In June 2009, the initiative will begin requiring U.S. citizens to have a proof-of-citizenship document, passport or some other federally approved identification for getting into the country through land or sea ports, said Kathy Kraninger, the Department of Homeland Security's deputy assistant secretary for policy.
"Being a border state, we have strong economic and cultural ties with Quebec," said Howard Deal, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles. The enhanced driver's license "was a natural for us to ease traffic across the border and maintain the tie and make it as simple as possible for our citizens."
Demand for the licenses has been heavy in Washington, Zenk said.
The state has 4,000 appointments scheduled in coming weeks for people wanting the licenses, and it has stopped advertising the license, she said. "Every day we get around 200 calls with interest in EDL," Zink said.
The state's enhanced license is good for five years, same as a standard driver's license, but costs $40 — $15 more than a traditional license, Zink said.
Vermont will issue a limited number of enhanced licenses in a pilot program by late this year, Deal said, but plans to make them widely available to residents starting in February 2009. The license will be good for four years, like a state driver's license, he said, but will cost $25 more than the $40 regular license.
New York will begin issuing enhanced driver's licenses Sept. 16. The ID is important to the state economy because 468,750 New York jobs are supported by Canada-USA trade, said Marissa Shorenstein, a spokeswoman for New York Gov. David Paterson. The enhanced license will cost $30 more than current license — $80 for most motorists, she said.
Napolitano proposed that Arizona create an enhanced driver's license last August and repeated that suggestion in a June letter to Arizona House of Representatives Speaker Jim Weiers.
The state has not taken any action or set a time frame for doing so, said Department of Transportation spokeswoman Cydney DeModica.
The Department of Homeland Security has to sign off on the procedures states use to issue enhanced driver's licenses and is working on an agreement with Michigan, Kraninger said.
"We are, of course, in negotiations with a number of other states," Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said.
Matthews reports for the Gannett News Service in Albany, N.Y. Daneman reports for the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle.