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County seeks towns’ support for Community ID program

NORTH LIBERTY– Will North Liberty be among the Johnson County cities that support a proposed Community ID program?
At the city council’s Feb. 10 meeting, Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert presented information and fielded questions about the program the county hopes to launch by June of this year.
Weipert also came seeking North Liberty’s financial support for the program’s start-up costs.
“That ship has sailed for us,” North Liberty councilor Chris Hoffman said. “We had a funding request last meeting that we had to turn down because the fund we pull from is depleted.”
It was the first time North Liberty had been officially approached about the Community ID program, and the council had lots of questions.
An effort to issue identifications, complete with a photograph and an address, to people who lack other forms of government-issued IDs, the Community ID campaign was launched last year in Johnson County. Targeted users include immigrants, seniors who no longer drive, the homeless, people who live in poverty or domestic violence victims, or those who lost personal documents in natural disasters, among others. The idea is that community IDs would be recognized and accepted county-wide by local law enforcement, public agencies and in businesses as a valid form of identification.
One of the benefits, according to Weipert, is empowering people to report crimes they might otherwise be afraid to because they lack official identification, since providing a valid photo ID is part of interactions with police.
According to the committee, the city of New Haven, Conn. has seen a significant decrease in crime rates in the five years it has issued community IDs.
North Liberty Police Chief Diane Venega told the council that in her department’s interactions with the public, about 20 percent of those involved do not carry identifying documents like a driver’s license. In about 10 percent of their public interactions, she added, people have no official identification to offer at all.
“We come in contact with a lot of folks that have no identification. It would be so much better if we could have an ID with a name and photo on it so we can confirm who it is,” said Venenga. Otherwise, people who provide eyewitness accounts of incidents are easily able to provide false information. “People who do not have an Iowa-issued or U.S.-issued ID would be able to have an ID, and be part of this community. We wouldn’t be running the information to verify it, as long as it looks like the person, and has the security features on it.”
A community ID could also be used when obtaining a library card or accessing a recreation center, when using a credit card, setting up a bank account or making certain purchases like medications. The IDs would only be issued if the requester provides specific personal documents, such as a passport, visa, documents from a foreign consulate, a green card or foreign driver’s license, or residential documents like a bank statement and utility bill that shows proof of address. The required documents would be categorized in a tiered system, and any workers issuing the IDs would be well-trained in how to identify fraudulent papers.
Weipert’s office would be the main location for obtaining the IDs, but because the equipment is portable and easy to use, the county hopes to train staff in local libraries or other public places to also issue the IDs.
Start-up costs would be minimal; Weipert estimated around $15,000 to get the program going, and said with user-fees of around $5 for an ID, it should become self-supporting.
The Board of Supervisors pledged $4,000 to the project, while the City of Coralville committed $2,000. The City of Iowa City had not yet made a pledge Weipert said, and North Liberty council members were non-committal on any funding.
Two North Liberty councilors asked why the county would consider the initiative when people could easily obtain a non-operator’s license at any Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) office.
“It seems redundant,” said councilman Chris Hoffman. “There are government IDs available, and that’s why we have those facilities in place. Why would a county go to the expense to issue an ID someone can just get at the DOT?”
Councilor Annie Pollock echoed Hoffman’s question.
“How does this differ from the non-operator’s ID card from the state?” Pollock asked. “It’s just concerning to me that we are duplicating a process and creating this workaround so it’s easier for those folks, versus everyone else who is going through the process to get state-issued IDs.”
Weipert said there are people who simply don’t want to enter government buildings, for reasons he declined to guess.
“If you consider it duplication, then it’s duplication, but if it helps out the chief, and gets them to come into the county and get the services they need, or report things they normally wouldn’t, I think that’s a benefit the county needs to weigh,” Weipert said.
Hoffman was unconvinced.
“I’m having a hard time making the jump to how this will benefit people when there are already services out there. What will make people walk into a county building or even a city library to get an ID? Is there a fear of walking into a public building for someone?”
Definitely, Weipert replied.
North Liberty Mayor Amy Nielsen offered her opinion on why.
“If you are coming from a country where your government is oppressive, there could be quite a great fear of going in to get your non-operator’s license at the DOT,” Nielsen said. “But if they could go into a building that wasn’t seen as an authoritative, that could give them more comfort, and help them feel more a part of the community to have this piece of plastic that says ‘this is who I am and this is my address.’ From what’ I’ve heard it would be worthwhile to have and to do.”
Nielsen attended a Feb. 17 meeting of the county-wide committee spearheading the effort for the last eight months and asked representatives from the Center for Worker Justice (CWJ) of Eastern Iowa to attend the council’s next meeting to provide more information about the benefits of the initiative.
On Monday, Feb. 23, two CWJ board members and three supporters offered additional information on the program and answered more council questions.
Board member Jesse Case said more than 600 people have pledged to sign up for a Community ID as soon as they become available. Details are still being hammered out, such as whether the IDs will be issued to minors, exactly what documents will be accepted for proof of identification and which businesses will recognize the IDs. Input from Johnson County communities is valuable in helping refine the program to be the best it can possibly be, Case added.
Council member Brian Wayson asked Case to return with the final proposal once those details were clear before the council votes on the issue.
North Liberty resident Paul Iversen of the University of Iowa’s Labor Center urged the council to support the initiative, reminding them of the diversity of the16,000 people who call North Liberty home; including international students at the university, people who don’t drive, or disaster victims who have lost official identification papers to floods or fires.
“There is a wide spectrum of people who will benefit from a community ID,” Iversen said. “We all will, because it will show that wherever we came from, however we got here, we are a community that values all its members.”
Learn more about the program via on Facebook at
www.facebook.com/centerforworkerjusticeofeasterniowa or at the website info@cwjiowa.org.