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Kan. hasn't set rollout for new licenses

12/31/2013

By JOHN HANNA

Associated Press

TOPEKA -- Kansas hasn't decided when to start issuing a new type of driver's license to residents who voluntarily provide proof of their U.S. citizenship while renewing their licenses, Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan said Monday as he defended a policy shift affecting enforcement of a new requirement for voters

Jordan said the state Department of Revenue has no firm date for rolling out the change for people renewing their licenses because it's unsure how the federal government will enforce the 2005 Real ID Act, an anti-terrorism law designed to make state driver's licenses more secure. The department plans to issue a renewed license with a gold star when someone provides a birth certificate, passport or other citizenship papers.

A separate Kansas law requires new voters to document their citizenship when registering. When legislators approved it in 2011, the Department of Revenue was planning to require proof of citizenship for all license renewals, and lawmakers anticipated the agency would forward electronic copies of the papers to election officials.

Jordan said during an interview with the Associated Press his department once intended to impose the stricter policy, believing the federal government would require it anyway. Federal officials since have been "gray and mushy" about what will be required of states for their licenses to be valid ID for entering federal buildings or boarding commercial airplanes, Jordan said.

He announced in September the department had dropped its original plans in favor of giving motorists a choice as they renewed their licenses, but the department is facing criticism. More than 19,300 prospective voters' registrations are on hold because they haven't complied with their proof-of-citizenship requirement, making them legally unable to cast ballots.

"How much do we want to put Kansans through with the fact that we don't really know what Real ID means yet?" Jordan said. "That's a whole different policy decision than voter ID, and we're kind of caught between making a decision on two policies here."

Jordan also noted the department is alerting election officials when motorists do provide citizenship papers and is combing its records for people who have done so in the past. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, championed the proof-of-citizenship rule for voters as a way to combat fraud. But critics note few cases of noncitizens voting have been reported and say the requirement suppresses turnout.

Kansas law requires people who are getting new driver's licenses to document they're in the U.S. legally, and noncitizens are required to present such documentation when they renew their licenses. State law doesn't impose such a requirement for citizens who renew their licenses, but House Elections Committee Chairman Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, said lawmakers had expected federal law would force it.