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Update: Rensselaer County And The Green Light Law

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Applicants line up at the Albany NY DMV office.

This week, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles office in Rensselaer County began processing all applications that come through the door. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas has an update on the local approach to the new Green Light law.

Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola had opposed and unsuccessfully challenged the Driver License Access & Privacy Act, also known as the Green Light law, in court. Signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, it went into effect in mid-December. The law directs all state DMV’s to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented residents.

Merola, a Republican, says his staff has watched a mandated webinar to identify documents from other countries.    "40 minutes on something that we've never done, we've never been able to accept a foreign document before. And after a 40 minute webinar, the state thinks that we are now qualified to make a decision at the at the counter, whether something is fraudulent or not. You know, again, I think it's a poor idea. But that's New York State."

Before staffers viewed the webinar, the Rensselaer County DMV had sent an applicant who couldn’t provide a Social Security number to the Albany DMV.   "When you put that Social Security number in on anybody coming in for permit, and that's what they have to do first, they had to get a permit, unless they have a driver's license from another country. I think we're accepting those. When you put that Social Security number, it checks a national driver registry for every state. So anything that says you lived in Texas for two years, you had two DWI's in Texas, and you come into New York State, you want to get a permit now, we put your name, date of birth, Social Security number, it checks that national driver registry. Now, without that, I don't know how they can check between states. I mean, because you could have a lot of John Smiths with the same date of birth. So I'm not sure how they're doing that. But I think it's just they're going to flip the coin and hope that they catch whatever it is that they look to catch."

According to published reports, New York State has seen an increase in new learner permits issued.

Meanwhile, several counties have posted notices on their websites that there could be long delays at DMV offices.  Dutchess County DMV tightened its policy regarding acceptance and processing of applications.

County Clerk Brad Kendall said by email:  “Due to the high demand we are currently limiting license and permit transactions to Dutchess County residents only. This means all residents regardless of legal status.  This restriction will be in effect until further notice. There are no residency requirements for all other transactions.”

Merola still carries doubts about the Green Light Law.   "Disgusted with the fact that we're issuing a driver's license that looks identical to the license that we carry. I know they say 'not for federal purposes,' but every license that we issue, unless it's a real ID or an enhanced, and I would say probably half the licenses we issue will say 'not for federal purposes,' but up till October 2020, you can board a plane. So we can have a bunch of people that are going to be boarding planes and trains and renting cars that are in this country illegally. And they'll have a license that looks identical to the license that we carry. You know, especially in New York state, what happened here on 9-11, you would think that we would be the state that would be premier in fighting against any type of indication that somebody's in here with fraudulent documents and yet we're going to be just the opposite."

Republican Rensselaer County Legislature Chair Mike Stammel is about to take office as mayor of Rensselaer.   "Overall, I can tell you I support Frank's effort. I understand what he's trying to bring across and it should be a concern to every citizen, as far as I'm concerned. I mean, this is something that, you know, can only get worse not get better. I don't see the positive side in it. You know, if they want to give them licenses, they always had the right to give people in other countries licenses. That was never a problem, but providing them an avenue to vote, register to vote, is definitely a concern."

The judge who dismissed Merola’s lawsuit dismissed that last point. But 27 county clerks from across New York State with DMV responsibilities are calling on Governor Cuomo and DMV officials to immediately stop the implementation of the Green Light law, citing concerns for the safety and security of state residents. A spokesperson for the New York State Association of County Clerks was not available for comment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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