Thursday, February 19, 2009

We Now Pronounce You . . .

Over nearly 60 years, I’ve applied for and been granted several dozen driver's licenses. My qualifications earned permits in Wisconsin, Idaho, Utah, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Army. Sandy also was a successful applicant in many places. We always negotiated the process rather easily. That is, we did until we encountered those helpful guardians of the public driving trust in the local office of the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS seems an appropriate acronym).

The SOS website displays a giant chart showing all the types of documents needed to acquire a Michigan license. We found we could register our car in the same office with a few more documents, which brought our document total to seven.

Being an experienced bureaucrat, I loaded up a whole briefcase full of documents “just in case.” Off we went to Allegan, the county seat, which is a 26-mile roundtrip from our home. Together, we stood before a clerk in the SOS office after only a brief wait.

My temporary drivers license was issued after a routine check of a selection of our documents proved that I was a now a Michigander and a vision check revealed that I could see most things. The car registration also was completed efficiently. Sandy’s license was another matter.

The clerk said Sandy’s documentation was insufficient. “Don’t you have a marriage license?” she asked.

“Not with us,” Sandy said. “What does that have to do with it? I gave you my Utah license and even showed you my social security card and passport. Passports are issued by the federal government. Mine has gotten me across borders in several parts of the world.”

“Michigan his stricter standards than the feds,” the clerk said. “We’re worried about illegals coming across the border.” Sandy asked what proving you were married had to do with crossing borders. I muttered something about wondering whether or not my new Michigan license would get me across the Indiana border.

I pointed out that the SOS website said two bills for services in Michigan showing the name of the applicant was sufficient documentation to establish residency. We had given the clerk a bill to both of us from the local power company, and also had produced a letter from our auto insurance company saying we both were now covered in Michigan and the letter would serve as our bill. The clerk said the power bill was fine, but the letter was not. “You have to have the actual policy.”

Sandy was beginning to make a few decidedly unfriendly comments and turning a shade of what I knew was going to become bright red. I suggested we leave quietly, drive home, get a copy of our marriage license, and return. Sandy’s parting shot was, “Will Michigan pay for our gas?” You know the answer to that.

We got one of the two signed marriage license duplicates that was handed to us after the ceremony several decades ago. Luckily, I decided to also grab a copy of our voluminous auto insurance policy. We returned to Allegan where we were allowed to join a line of other returnees who could go to the counter ahead of all first-time visitors.

I handed over the marriage license to the same clerk we had seen earlier. “Oh, I don’t think that will be acceptable,” she said. “It doesn’t have a seal on it. And this one says it’s the groom’s copy. You’re going to need to contact the courthouse to get a stamped copy of the original.”

“But the courthouse is in Wisconsin,” I said. “Anyway, this is an original. It was handed to me right after the ceremony. Sandy also got one, and I assume God has a third one.” That brought some laughter from the other clerks and applicants, but didn’t produce a driver’s license for Sandy.

As the clerk started for the supervisor’s office with our marriage license to get a ruling, I told her I also had our insurance policy, which clearly showed both our names. “Oh,” the clerk said, ‘then we can go ahead.” Several minutes later, Sandy had her temporary permit.

While we were in the office, we noticed that almost every applicant for anything who appeared before the other two clerks was being told to come back later with one or more missing documents.

The Governor of Michigan recently announced a serious program to cut State expenses. Maybe if the licensing rules were streamlined a bit the Secretary of State staff could be cut in half because residents would need to visit only once to do a piece of business rather than two or three times. That also might be viewed as a gas conservation measure.

And why does Michigan worry about the residency of people who can prove they are U.S. citizens and want to hand over 25 bucks for a State driver’s license? I thought my newly adopted State was hard up for cash. Maybe if we advertised “quickie” driver’s licenses ala the instant marriages and divorces available in Nevada we’d raise enough cash to balance the budget.

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