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New bill will make driver license's photo a close record

March 02, 1999
By: Maria Andres
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 438, SB 132

JEFFERSON CITY - The Senate Transportation Committee voted to give reporters a right that would be denied to most other Missourians -- the right to get your driver's license photo.

The bill, voted by the committee would remove the photo in the drivers license records as a public record. But at the request of the state's newspaper association, the committee ammended the bill to provide the news media with continued access to the pictures.

The bill's sponsor warned that under the current law, any stalker in the state can get access to a Missourian's picture along with the name and address, for only 3 dollars. Commercial companies can also get this personal information from the state's Revenue Department and use it to send junk mail.

"To me, the picture on the drivers license is a very private thing, and it should be protected. Getting this information is a real invasion of privacy," said the bill's sponor - Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon.

The news media exemption was added at the request of Doug Crews, executive director of the Missouri Press Association.

"We are using this information for legitimate purposes, in many cases for public safety purposes. Historically the news media is the eyes and the ears on the public, so that is why we are very opposed to closing these records," Crews said.

According to Crews, the news media should have access to the public records because they don't use the information for marketing purposes.

"The news media use this picture sometimes because it is the only picture available. When there is a crime committed or an accident of some kind occurs, the news media goes to the Department of Revenue and gets the photograph of the person involved. Sometimes these pictures are published," said Crews.

Currently, the Revenue Department sells driver's license information of any Missourian except those who have signed a form asking that their driver's license information not be provided to the public.

Car insurance companies often request the records. According to Lisa Bondurant, executive of the Drivers License Bureau, those companies use the information to find out who has a suspended or revoked license and then send them information about new car insurance.

Insurance companies are not opposed to the removal of the photos in the open records. Brent Butler, spokesman of the Missouri Insurance Coalition, said photographs are not necessary for marketing purposes.

But Russell says he is concerned about giving out any personal information for commercial purposes.

"We had a lot of complaints about other information they are requiring often from the drivers license, so I feel fairly confident that once they learn there is a possibility they can request the picture, there will be a lot of people incensed about that," said Russell.

The question now is whether people will be also "incensed" to find out that the media will still have access to the photos.

"This is only a first step in a long process," Crews said. "We will be following the bill very closely, monitoring it along the way, to make sure that these records are open to the media."