Chamber of commerce welcomes agreement on state drivers licenses

PLATTSBURGH The Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce is welcoming news New York State and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have reached an understanding regarding the development and deployment of an enhanced state drivers license that will meet DHS requirements under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. We have been in a steady dialogue with [Governor Eliot L. Spitzer] and his staff on this matter since January," stated chamber president Garry Douglas. "The agreement on an enhanced drivers license that New Yorkers will be able to use at the border instead of a passport is a welcome step. We thank the Governor forhis engagementand now look forward to working with the administration on final details and implementation." The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is due to require U.S. and Canadian citizens to present passports or equivalent documents to cross the border beginning at some point in 2008. While Sen. Charles E. Schumer, Congressman John M. McHugh and others continue efforts in Congress to postpone the implementation of WHTI until mid-2009 at the earliest. Border interests such as the Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce have also been encouraging states and provinces to move towards license enhancements that would satisfy DHS requirements. New York is now joining Vermont, Michigan and Washington in progressing toward such new licenses. The agreement announced by the governor and Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff will lead to the availability of an enhanced state drivers license New Yorkers can opt to obtain at some additional cost which will verify citizenship and be accepted for federal ID purposes, including border crossings. "This still leaves us with our greatest concern, however," noted Mr. Douglas, "which is maintaining easy access for Canadian citizens visiting and doing business here. There is definite interest in Quebec and Ontario, however,in working with Homeland Security and border states. Part of the delay has been uncertainty about what might work, so the agreement with New Yorkcould help to show the way. More time is needed, however, even for proper implementation of the New York license initiative so we will continue to work in Washington as well." Currently, the postponement in the 2008 implementation date for passports at the U.S.-Canadian border is contained in the Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, which has passed both the House and Senate but needs to be reconciled before being sent to the President. There are indications the President might then veto the bill, not because of the WHTI delay, but because of higher spending than originally sought. Last week, Mr. Douglas noted the local chamber of commerce was to co-host a meeting of U.S. and Canadian crossborder leaders in Montreal the Can/Am Corridors Council annual conference. He indicated the gathering would provide a timely opportunity to report on the New York State announcements and assess where things are at in Canada.

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