Panel oks new license to speed border crossings

Published 07 May 13 11:56 AM

By Michael Gardner5:16 P.M.APRIL 30, 2013

 — A key Senate policy committee unanimously approved legislation Tuesday to help clear up traffic jams at California-Mexico border crossing stations.

The measure carried by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, would establish a process for the Department of Motor Vehicles to work with federal authorities to offer what’s called an “enhanced driver’s license.”

Applicants would have to be eligible for a U.S. passport, clear tighter background checks and pay more. The license would be equipped with special technology that can be read remotely, avoiding lengthy stops at checkpoints.

Widespread use of the new license would reduce overall border wait times and encourage more trade and travel between the two countries, supporters say.

California would become the first southwestern border state with such a program if legislation is signed into law and approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The proposal has supporters on both sides of the border, who say the average wait time is now 70 minutes.

The Chula Vista-based South County Economic Development Council called the border “the gateway for commerce as employees cross the border to go to work, consumers shop and business people cross to attend meetings and manage their business. Border wait times discourage commerce and have a negative impact on the region.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union is wary of the potential invasions of privacy, the threat of stealing personal information and counterfeiting documents.

“Our border waits are too long and everybody wants to see them go down,” Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, senior policy advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union office in San Diego, said in an earlier interview. “But we don’t want to rush into this very expensive endeavor without being diligent about privacy and security concerns.”

Although California could become the first southwest state to offer enhanced driver’s licenses, it is not unique. Several northern states already offer the licenses to those traveling to Canada.

The 11-0 vote by the Transportation and Housing Committee sends the bill to the Appropriations Committee. Gov. Jerry Brown has not taken a position

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