Laws of unintended consequences

October 14, 2012 

When lawmakers in the state Capitol sift through the thousands of bills from the sublime to the rediculous they rarely factor in their discussions the law of unintended consequences. Same thing happens in Washington, D.C.

Long after bills are signed into law does the LUC kick in. This past July, many drivers in Georgia were surprised when they attempted to renew their driver’s licenses. What was a quick point and click online is no longer. Federal requirements for the Real ID Act, now require drivers to visit a Department of Driver Services office if they don’t already have DDS secure license marked by a white star in a field of gold in the upper right corner of the license.

Many Georgians haven’t renewed their licenses in many years, so naturally, they were caught by surprise when they had to produce, in person, proof of identity, Social Security card and proof of residence. But there is more. You have to prove your citizenship as well. How? According to the DDS, either with a “valid, unexpired U.S. passport,” an “original or certified copy of a U.S. birth certificate/amended birth certificate filed with the State Office of Vital Statistics. Birth certificates issued by hospitals “are not acceptable.”

Lawmakers could have cared less that the consequences of their actions caused backlogs. The LUC hit 475,000 Georgians who have professional licenses -- from hair dressers to archiitects -- who now have to provide proof of citizenship when annually renewing their professional licenses. This was enacted by state lawmakers to be sure no illegal immigrant is granted a state license.

According to Secretary of State Brian Kemp, what used to be an easy online process, now can take weeks. His agency has been hit hard by the LUC. There are not enough people, due to prior cutbacks, to do the job of answering the almost half million phone calls that have come into his call center this year due to the new requirements. His agency has suffered a 3 percent cut and that led to layoffs at the state archives. Unless the law is adjusted, the workload will not disappear. Kemp wants the law changed to require a citizenship check only when first applying for a license.

Henry Williams, a former member of the licensing board that oversees the hearing aid business, told The New York Times, “Unfortunately, government makes these laws and regulations at the legislative levels, but they don’t make the adjustments at the do-it level.”

Why so many professions need a state license is another question worth debating. We can understand why engineers and surveyors need a license, but a librarian or a mixed martial arts fighter?

-- The Editorial Board

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