Legislation would raise drivers' license fees

Posted: Wednesday, February 06, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Alaska driver's license fees may go up $5 to help pay for a more secure digital photo ID system.

The House State Affairs Committee is considering a bill that would boost fees for licenses and identification cards from $15 to $20. Fees for learners' permits would increase from $5 to $15.

Division of Motor Vehicles Director Mary Marshburn said Tuesday the increase would pay for a computer system that can produce licenses that are more difficult to forge or alter.

''Digital licenses are the national standard,'' Marshburn said. Alaska is one of only four states that doesn't use a digital system, she said.

The system would create licenses with a number of security features, including machine-readable bar codes that contain the address, birthdate and other information that is on the face of the license.

The licenses of underage drivers would be a different shape than those over 21, making it easier for busy clerks, bartenders and waitresses to check identification, she said.

The digital photo information would be stored on a computer server, which law enforcement agencies could access easily, Marshburn said.

The fee increase would raise $750,000 to $900,000 a year, she said. The money goes into the state's general fund.

The agency estimates one-time costs for software and related work at about $500,000, Marshburn said. The agency already has about $500,000 set aside for hardware.

Mark Mew, deputy chief of the Anchorage Police Department, said the new system will save officers' and clerical workers' time and reduce mistakes.

When police make traffic stops, instead of manually copying all the information onto a report, they would be able to enter the data into a laptop by swiping the bar code, he said.

''The advantages to us are just incredible,'' Mew said.

Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, worried the new system eventually could erode privacy.

''I have fears that we're moving toward a national passport system within our own country here,'' he said.

Crawford questioned whether more information eventually would be put on the bar code and whether it could be used as a tracking system, with people having to swipe their cards every time they go to the grocery store.

Marshburn said state law limits the information the agency can put on licenses and it could not put any more information than that on the bar code.

Rep. Joe Hayes, D-Fairbanks, wondered whether the system would be vulnerable to hackers.

Marshburn said while no system is fail-safe, numerous safeguards protect DMV records.

Because drivers' licenses are good for five years the increase amounts to about $1 a year, Marshburn said. Fees haven't increased in more than 10 years, she said.

The State Affairs Committee put off action on the bill until Thursday.

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