JEFFERSON CITY — The head of Missouri's driver's license agency declined Wednesday to stop making copies of applicants' concealed-gun permits while being quizzed by senators concerned that the new licensing process might infringe on people's privacy.
During a tense Senate committee hearing, state licensing officials repeatedly denied that they were trying to comply with a federal proof-of-identity law by scanning applicants' personal documents such as birth certificates and concealed weapons permits into an electronic database.
Yet they also were reluctant to halt the practice, explaining that it helps protect against fraud.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, who has led the charge against the new licensing procedures, vowed to hold up the budget for the Motor Vehicle and Driver Licensing Division because of his concerns. He said Wednesday that he plans to convene additional hearings across the state to gather public testimony about the document scanning practice that began in December.
Separately, the Missouri House gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would block the scanning and retention of personal documents submitted by driver's license applicants and require state officials to destroy those already collected. A similar bill received initial Senate approval Tuesday.
Much of the opposition to the new driver's license procedures has come from Republican lawmakers, who have raised fears that a Missouri database of concealed gun permit holders could be shared with the federal government, private contractors or hacked into illegally. The agency receives the documents because it places a notation on driver's licenses — similar to an organ donor's stamp — for people with concealed gun permits.
The Columbia Daily Tribune on Wednesday quoted a spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol who confirmed the agency had received a list of concealed gun permit holders from the state Revenue Department and had shared that list with federal authorities "for law enforcement investigative purposes."
Schaefer pressed Department of Revenue Director Brian Long, whose agency administers driver's licenses, to commit Wednesday to stop scanning and keeping copies of concealed gun documents.
But Long responded: "I'm not prepared to do that at this time. I am committed to continuing to educate myself and others about the way (the concealed-carry permitting process) works."
Earlier during Wednesday's hearing, Schaefer noted that department rules require people only to show documents to license clerks. He asked why the department hadn't pursued a rule change — which would have required a public comment period — specifically stating that documents would be scanned and saved by the state.
Department General Counsel Trevor Bossert said he advised against it, partly because of the "administrative burden" it would have created. Bossert described the scanning process as "an internal procedure" of the agency conducted after people show their documents.
"You should have informed the public," Schaefer, R-Columbia, told department officials.
Long, who was appointed to the post Dec. 13 by Gov. Jay Nixon, told senators Wednesday that he has no objection to now publishing a rule change about the new process.
Some Republican lawmakers fear that the agency's new system is an attempt to comply with the federal Real ID Act, which sets stringent requirements for photo identification cards to be used to board commercial flights or enter federal buildings.
Missouri has a 2009 law prohibiting the state from taking steps intended to comply with the goals of the 2005 federal identity law.
In a Dec. 12 letter to the U.S. Homeland Security secretary, Long's predecessor asserted that Missouri's security standards for issuing driver's licenses "are comparable to or exceed the substantive security standards of the federal REAL ID Act." Attached to the letter was a chart showing Missouri's compliance — and, in some cases, noncompliance — with 39 requirements of the federal law.
But Nixon has denied Missouri is trying to implement Real ID, and his Revenue Department officials repeated that assertion Wednesday.
"The reason for scanning is to have a more secure license. It's not to comply with Real ID," said Deputy Department Director John Mollenkamp.
Schaefer suggested that state officials have been trying to evade his questions.
"I get the semantic game. What you're doing is you're implementing things that are required by Real ID and then trying to tell the General Assembly you're actually not doing it for Real ID," Schaefer said. "I don't know if people think we can't read, or we just don't have the ability to comprehend cause and effect?"
Under Missouri's prior licensing process, local clerks looked at applicants' documents, took a photo and immediately printed a license. Under the new system, those licenses are printed and mailed by a contractor several days after people apply.
Jackie Bemboom, the director of the state licensing division, said the state started scanning and saving copies of documents because of fraud issues. A clerk in a St. Joseph license office pleaded guilty Dec. 11 in a scheme to accept false identification documents that federal prosecutor say resulted in Missouri licenses being issued to more than 3,500 people living illegally in the U.S.
Under the old system, state officials had no way of verifying the documents that local clerks viewed and approved, Bemboom said. State officials now are randomly reviewing the scanned documents submitted by about 120 of the 6,000 applicants it receives daily, Bemboom said.