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Driver's license lines improving, but Utahns still wait

Dante McMaster plays his Nintendo as his sister, Isabela, grows impatient while waiting in line with their mother.
Dante McMaster plays his Nintendo as his sister, Isabela, grows impatient while waiting in line with their mother.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

DRAPER — Well aware that renewing a driver's license has become more time-consuming and bureaucratic, Joe Jensen prepared before he left in the middle of the day for the Driver License Division.

"I heard you needed a birth certificate or passport," said Jensen, who lives in Salt Lake's Sugar House neighborhood. "So I brought both."

But it wasn't enough. Jensen also needed a Social Security card, or W-2 or 1099 tax forms.

The division gave him a temporary renewal with instructions to return within six months with proper documentation.

"The thing that's aggravating is there's no communication from the state" by mail, he said. "There's no notice saying, 'Here are the documents you need.' "

At the beginning of the year, lines at driver's license offices grew long, after a law passed by the Utah Legislature required residents obtaining a state identification card or a driver's license, or renewing a license, to verify they are in the country legally by presenting documents that are scanned into a state database and checked by a national database. The state law complies with the federal REAL ID Act of 2009, which attempts to correct some weaknesses in domestic security identified by the 9-11 Commission.

However, REAL ID has its critics, and they are not just the people waiting in long lines. Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, is sponsoring HB234, which would allow Utah to opt out of certain provisions of REAL ID, such as a requirement that states embed radio frequency chips into licenses.

But the law provides no reprieve for Utahns queued in lines. They need licenses that comply with federal standards to be legitimate forms of identification in airports, Sandstrom said.

"Currently, there are 15 states that have passed statutes prohibiting REAL ID," Sandstrom said. "We would become the 16th state."

Last year, Sandstrom sponsored a similar bill, and it was passed by various committees and the House. The legislative session ended before the Senate could vote on it.

Although Sandstrom's bill has wide support, Nanette Rolf, director of the Driver License Division, is concerned that if Utah opts out of REAL ID, the state won't be in the position to receive potential benefits from the federal government, which is working to address the problems.

At the Driver License Division, lines are moving faster. When the new law began, the average Utahn waited 3.5 to 4 hours. Now the wait is closer to an hour or hour and a half, division spokesman Jeff Nigbur said.

That's because division workers are getting faster. The division now posts an employee at the door to turn away people without the right documents.

And some offices will be open on Fridays. The first was the Draper office, which was open on Friday for the first time this week.

"We will have the West Valley City office open on Friday," Nigbur said. "We are going to have a target date of March 5, and another one (open on Friday), the Fairpark office, does not yet have a date."

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