- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

RICHMOND House and Senate negotiators yesterday agreed on a two-year, $50 billion budget that will provide the necessary funding for the Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure that foreign nationals prove their legal status before obtaining a Virginia driver's license.
The budget agreement includes $16.5 million in unappropriated funds. Funding for the new DMV requirements, estimated at $400,000, will come from these leftover resources, appropriations staff members said. The money will be used to train employees and buy new equipment necessary to certify legal documents such as passports and birth certificates.
As part of the overall budget agreement, public school teachers and state employees will receive a 2.25 percent pay raise. There is no money set aside to fund cultural nonstate agencies such as museums and the Wolf Trap Foundation.
Conference committee members, who are dealing solely with the DMV bill, were still ironing out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill mandating the change. Assuming they reach an agreement before tonight's midnight deadline, legislators said they have set aside funds to implement the program, but could not specify how much.
"Whatever it is, it will get funded," said House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax County Republican.
Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, expressed concerns that $400,000 might not be enough for the required changes. He said he had heard the program would cost millions.
"The bigger question that needs to be asked is what is a driver's license Is it an indication of legal status or is it an identity card?" Mr. Warner said. "Do we want, right next to a DMV person, an INS individual too? … If that is the direction we are headed, we ought to make sure there is funding we can do it."
State Sen. James O'Brien and Delegate David Albo, both Fairfax County Republicans, have sponsored legislation that mandates that the DMV require foreign nationals seeking a driver's license to prove they are legally allowed to be in the United States.
The major difference between the two bills include a delayed implementation date and different requirements for who would qualify. Mr. O'Brien's bill has been significantly modified since he introduced it, and as a result he is supporting Mr. Albo's proposal. A conference report on the bill is expected to be released today.
Mr. Albo's bill, which passed the House 86-10 and the Senate 40-0, instructs the DMV to start requiring foreign nationals who apply for a driver's license after Jan. 1, 2004, to submit proof of legal status. Foreign nationals residing in Virginia who currently have a driver's license would not be asked to submit identification when they renew their license.
"Unless the State Department or some government agency tells us that Osama bin Laden Jr. is here illegally and already has a license, we are not going to ask for the proof when they go for renewals," Mr. Albo said. "The financial impact of doing that would be really huge."
Once both chambers pass the budget, which is expected to happen later today, it goes to Mr. Warner's desk where he can sign it, veto it or offer changes. Should he alter the budget, lawmakers would have to approve his changes when they reconvene in April.


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