Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon denied on Wednesday that his administration is implementing a federal proof-of-identity law through a controversial new driver's license process, declaring with exasperation that the state wasn't trying "to mess with people" by building "a magical database" of personal information.
The Democratic governor responded to questions during a news conference Wednesday about a new licensing process in which clerks are making copies of applicants' personal documents such as concealed gun permits and birth certificates. Some Republican lawmakers fear Missouri may be trying to implement the 2005 federal Real ID Act, which set stringent proof-of-identity requirements for photo IDs.
Nixon noted that he had signed a 2009 Missouri law prohibiting the state from taking steps to comply with the federal Real ID law.
"We're not moving forward on trying to implement Real ID," Nixon said during a news conference that he had called to discuss a Medicaid expansion.
The governor grew frustrated as reporters continued to ask questions about the driver's license system administered by the Department of Revenue.
"This state of Missouri is not collecting a bunch of unuseful data to send to some sort of magical database someplace to mess with people. It's not happening," Nixon said.
Clerks in local driver's license offices are scanning and transmitting electronic copies of people's birth certificates and concealed gun endorsements to the Department of Revenue as part of new process in which licenses are printed and later mailed to recipients by a contractor. Missouri driver's licenses previously had been printed in local offices and immediately handed to applicants.
Revenue Department officials have said the centralized printing saves money and the lag time in issuing licenses provides an opportunity for state officials to find fraudulent applications before issuing licenses. The new procedures were implemented after federal charges were brought against nearly 20 people for their roles in obtaining licenses for as many as 3,500 people living in the U.S. illegally from a license office in St. Joseph between November 2009 and January 2012.
The state Revenue Department has said it does not share the database of people's personal documents with either the federal government or the driver's license contractor, MorphoTrust USA.
"Central issuance is the most secure process that we are aware of," said Scott Boylan, who is the general counsel for MorphoTrust USA. "It limits the number of people who are involved in the process. It virtually eliminates the risk of fraudulent issuance that you can have in an over-the-counter situation."
Yet skepticism has continued to build among some legislators. On Tuesday, the department complied with a subpoena from the Senate by turning over thousands of pages of documents related to the driver's license process. Among other things, the subpoena sought records on whether Missouri has taken steps to implement the Real ID standards for verifying a license applicant's identity and citizenship.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security website lists Missouri as one of 34 states that has submitted a Real ID "package and status update" but not among the states that have fully implemented the program.