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First step in countywide ID program

A crowd of over 100 people gathers at the Johnson County Administration Building to show support for the Community ID program at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting Thursday, April 9. (photo by Lori Lindner)

IOWA CITY– The Johnson County supervisors don’t always get applause, hoots and whistles when they make a decision. But then, their meetings don’t typically draw audiences of 100 or more people at once.
That was the scene at the Board of Supervisors’ April 9 formal meeting, when the board unanimously approved a resolution supporting the Community ID program. More than 100 people of all ages and walks of life– from immigrants to business leaders, students to state representatives– marched to the meeting carrying signs, most sporting the sentiment “Identify me with a Community ID.” Once the board room filled, its walls lined with observers and floors packed with children, the crowd spilled into the second floor hallway of the administration building and listened with anticipation while speakers offered comments in support of the program.
A Community ID will now be a recognized form of identification for Johnson County residents who lack other forms of government-issued IDs. The new IDs will contain the cardholder’s photograph, name and address. Targeted users include immigrants, seniors who no longer drive, or those who lost personal documents in fires or natural disasters, among others. The idea is that community IDs will be recognized and accepted county-wide by local law enforcement, public agencies and for other transactions in which a valid form of identification is required, such as cashing checks, filling prescriptions, renting apartments or getting library cards.
The effort to establish a community ID program has been a year-long collaboration between county officials including Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness, Auditor Travis Weipert and Recorder Kim Painter, representatives of the Center for Worker Justice (CWJ) of Eastern Iowa, and Jesse Case, President of the Iowa City Federation of Labor.
Case said he has worked to pass Community ID programs in other cities like Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle.
“I’ve worked in a lot of cities and I’ve never seen a city with elected officials who were so willing to come together and partner with the community on such an important issue. We should all be conscious of how rare it is to have such good allies in our elected officials,” said Case.
The Johnson County supervisors have supported the proposal from day one, noted Supervisor Mike Carberry.
“It made me so happy today, looking out the window and seeing 100 people walking toward our building,” said Carberry. “It shows the community supports the Community ID. I’m proud of the work the board has done and the cooperation between the communities all over the county. Thank you all for hard work, and I look forward to moving it forward.”
Supervisor Janelle Rettig said while not everyone agrees, she has seen overwhelming support in favor of Community ID.
“Not everybody is on our side, but instantaneously, different law enforcement chiefs– while it’s not unanimous– most of them are 100 percent supportive, and the Chamber of Commerce immediately gave a quote that they thought it would be good for business. If there is anywhere that should do this, it’s Johnson County,” Rettig said.
Supervisor Rod Sullivan offered his comments in Spanish, thanking those who worked hard and gave their time to the effort. A 4-0 vote of support for the resolution (Terrence Neuzil was absent, but offered words of approval through Rettig) prompted boisterous applause, a group photograph opportunity in the lobby of the administration building and loud chants of “¡Si, se pudo!” which in English roughly translates to “Yes, we can!”
Mazahir Salih, Vice President of the CWJ and a native of Sudan, said that before this initiative, she felt separated from the community.
“But you, you make me feel that we’re together, and I’m just one of you guys,” she said. “I feel I can go anywhere, any time. Thanks a lot.”
The cards will not be used as proof of age to purchase alcohol or cigarettes, or to get into establishments with age restrictions, nor will they be valid under other federal identification requirements, such as entering federal buildings, boarding airplanes, driving or voting.
Johnson County will provide staff, training and materials to produce the identification cards.
Lyness said she hopes the county will be ready to issue the identification cards in July, but the supervisors’ action is just the first step.
“We realize it doesn’t solve everything and it won’t be available to everyone, but we do think it will help a large number of people in our community gain access to more services,” Lyness said. “We hope it will (pass in) the municipalities as well, but we didn’t want to delay moving forward while waiting for other entities.”
Weipert also acknowledged there is more work to be done for the program to be successful.
“This is just a small step today. We have a long way to go to get it up and running. But we’ll get right back to work tomorrow,” said Weipert.