Relief for tag waiting times in store…

New online system could stop vehicle tag logjam
by Tim Lockette

September 9, 2011
A new computerized identity-verification system could help county officials avoid the longer lines they’re expecting after Alabama’s new immigration law takes effect.

Calhoun County Commissioner of Licenses Barry Robertson said a task force of county and state officials has found a work-around that would allow them to continue to issue automobile tags online and by mail, despite the increased documentation required by the immigration law.

“We could have this up and running within a week,” Robertson said. “We could make it by Oct. 1 if the law goes into effect then.”

Alabama’s new immigration law would require people to prove their legal residency in the United States when they apply for license plates. According to a memo from the state Department of Revenue, that means drivers would have to show a birth certificate, Alabama driver’s license, passport or other proof of citizenship or residency.

That change presents a problem for counties that offer tag renewals online or by mail. Jefferson County, the state’s most populous county, announced last month that it would not offer online renewals. Officials in some local counties told The Anniston Star on Wednesday that they were ending their online or mail programs, or were still undecided on whether to continue them.

That same day, Robertson was in Montgomery, talking to other state and county officials about how to keep the online and mail registrations going.

“Twenty to 30 percent of our registrations are by mail,” Robertson said. “We don’t want to inconvenience those people.”

Robertson said the Department of Revenue was working on a system that would allow county offices to verify the residency status of vehicle tag applicants through CAPPS, a computerized database. With CAPPS, Robertson said, county officials would need to know only a person’s driver’s license number to look up information on citizenship status. People would provide those numbers with their online applications, Robertson said.

CAPPS is also the name of a database used by airlines to determine the identity of their passengers. Roberston said he didn’t know whether the two systems are the same. Officials at the Department of Revenue did not return calls about the system Thursday afternoon.

Robertson said that even with online and by-mail registration intact, some customers could expect additional hurdles when applying for vehicle tags if the law takes effect. The main reason, he explained, is that non-Alabama driver licenses don’t count as automatic proof of legal residency under the state’s interpretation of the new law.

“If you’re here with an out-of-state license and you want to apply for a tag, we’re going to say, no, we’re sorry, you have to go back and get your birth certificate,” he said.

Robertson said that glitch would have its biggest effect on Jacksonville State University’s out-of-state students, who often register their cars in Alabama — in the names of their out-of-state parents. Federal workers on extended duty at Anniston Army Depot or the Center for Domestic Preparedness could also be affected, he said.

Counties are eager to settle the matter because the state will be issuing new, redesigned disability access tags in 2012. Many customers with disability tags are in their 80s or 90s, Robertson said, and some don’t have birth certificates.

“Some of these older people were delivered by midwives,” he said.

He said state officials are still looking into ways to comply with the immigration law when renewing registration for mobile homes.

Star assistant metro editor Tim Lockette: 256-235-3560.