Driven Crazy at the DMV

During the time I served in Congress, constituents would often say that members of Congress should try to live under the laws they pass.

I’m no longer a Congressman, and I have a typical horror story about trying to live under one of the laws passed by the current Congress.

Congress this past spring added something called the “Real ID” bill to another piece of legislation (an Emergency Supplemental Appropriation for the Defense Department and the global war on terror). The supplemental was signed into law by President Bush on May 11, 2005 and that's when the fun began.

The “Real ID” bill set new national standards for obtaining a driver’s license, something previously governed exclusively by state law. Thus, the Republican Congress created a vast new bureaucratic system which it imposed on the states without providing any funding to carry it out.

Virginia, the state where I currently live, immediately passed implementing legislation-- even though the new federal law gave states three years to comply.

This summer, my wife and I applied for diver’s licenses in Virginia. My application was granted but my wife’s application was rejected even though she served 31 years in the U.S. Army, retiring with the rank of Major General in April. My wife, Kathy, had obtained driver’s licenses in numerous states during her various assignments for the military and had never been rejected.

What in the world was going on?

State officials cited the new “Real ID” bill. Kathy will not be the last American citizen denied a driver’s license under this new horribly complicated federal law, so it’s worth taking a look at the process.

When I raised this issue with my local state senator, she provided me a memo sent to members of the Virginia General Assembly by the state’s department of motor vehicles while the federal law was pending in Congress. Here is the relevant portion: “In essence, the process for obtaining a state-issued driver’s license in the future may be comparable to the federal process for obtaining a passport.”

The memo predicted that it may take weeks to get a driver’s license under the new federal law.

What was the problem faced by my wife? She provided the Virginia DMV her most recent military retiree identification card which included items required by the new law (full name and social security number). She also provided other documentation giving her current address in Virginia and date of birth (a current passport). Slam-dunk? Not so fast.

The Virginia DMV then contacted the Social Security Administration to verify her social security number. Kathy and I were married seven years ago but she did not notify the Social Security Administration of her name change, so they could not verify her Social Security number under her married name. Thus, she was rejected for a driver’s license even though the U.S. Army had issued her an ID card with both her married name and her social security number.

How many women are there in the United States who have not notified the Social Security Administration of their married name? My guess is that there are millions. Interestingly, the Social Security Administration had no difficulty accepting Kathy’s monthly social security withholding payments for years, despite the fact that they were still carrying her account under her previous name.

If every state refuses to issue a driver’s license to a woman who presents a current valid ID (military or otherwise) that contains both her married name and her social security number, there will be a lot of complaints lodged with local officials.

By the way, under the new federal law, all driver's license renewals must now be obtained in person. You will not be able to simply send in a check and renew by mail even when you have a current, valid license in your state. And when you show up, be prepared to present documentary proof (original documents only—no photo copies) establishing who you are, where you live, your date of birth, and your social security number in your current name.

There is a happy ending to Kathy’s story. Weeks later, after contacting the DC government to get a certified copy of our marriage certificate and then taking that certified copy to the local Social Security office, and then making another trip to the local DMV office, she got her driver’s license. It’s a good thing she is retired and had the time to jump through all these bureaucratic hoops.

All those constituents who used to complain about the crazy new laws that Congress was passing were right. Good luck on your next trip to your local DMV office.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel, and is a scholar in residence at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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