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Baltimore close to creating municipal ID cards for city residents

The Baltimore City Council is moving ahead with a bill that would require the city to issue a municipal identification card to any resident that requests one.

Coming soon to Baltimore: official government ID cards for people who live in the city.

The City Council is moving ahead with a bill that would require the city to issue a municipal identification card to any resident who asks for one.

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The bill's chief sponsor, Councilman Brandon Scott, said the idea is to make it easier for homeless people, immigrants and others who lack a driver's license to obtain services from the city.

It would cut down on unnecessary arrests, Scott said, and bolster a sense of civic pride. Baltimore businesses and cultural institutions could offer discounts to cardholders.

"It's optional, but we're going to encourage people to get one," Scott said. "I hope to be the first to get one."

Scott's legislation grew out of an effort he pushed last year on behalf of Baltimore students. Seeing that they needed four different ID cards to access schools, libraries, recreation centers and buses, Scott introduced legislation to combine those functions into one card.

Now he's trying to expand the program to adults.

"These IDs will be available to homeless people, to immigrants and refugees, to women who are the victims of domestic abuse who can't get their documents in order to get another ID," Scott said.

The legislation hasn't sparked much debate in heavily Democratic Baltimore. It's been praised by groups including the Police Department and the House of Ruth, a shelter of women and children who have suffered domestic abuse.

But elsewhere, such proposals have been fought by those who oppose allowing immigrants in the country without legal documentation, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which says such cards encourage lawbreaking.

When New York City instituted municipal ID cards in 2014, the group argued the cards would "draw illegal aliens to New York City by making life more practicable" for them.

The new Baltimore ID would have the same effect, a FAIR spokesman said.

"The reason we have so many illegal immigrants living in his country is because we make it easy for them," said Ira Mehlman, the spokesman. "We provide all sorts of benefits for breaking the laws.

"A number of these local governments have lost sight of the reason why we have immigration laws."

Scott disagrees. He said making life easier for immigrants — those who are here with or without legal documentation — is a strength of the legislation. He said immigrants often carry cash because they don't have proper identification to open bank accounts, making them targets for street robberies.

Municipal ID cards are used in New York and Los Angeles. It's believed that the first city to issue municipal ID cards was New Haven, Conn., followed by San Francisco.

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The cities have taken different approaches. In Oakland, Calif., for example, the municipal ID cards can function as debit cards. Scott said he would like to explore that option for Baltimore because young people often cash their paychecks at check-cashing businesses that take a significant cut.

Cardholders in New York receive a 25 percent discount at some basketball and hockey games, and free admission to some museums.

Fernanda Durand, a spokeswoman for the pro-immigration group CASA, said ID cards have helped new immigrants in Montgomery County.

"We think it will do the same in Baltimore City," she said. "People who have no IDs are living in the shadows. This is a small way to help them to get out of the shadows. They are hardworking members of the community who contribute to the economy."

The legislation calls for applicants' personal information to be promptly destroyed once they receive an ID.

"We are a sovereign city and a safe city," Scott said. "If someone comes calling about information about our immigrants, we won't have it because we're going to be destroying it."

Durand said the victory of President-elect Donald J. Trump, who pledged during the campaign to deport millions of immigrants who are in the country without legal documentation, has crated fear.

"We wouldn't want the city to be an unwilling participant in their deportation," she said.

The bill has advanced with unanimous support in the City Council. It will receive a final vote Dec. 5.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young backs the measure, as does Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Signing the bill is expected to be one of her last acts in office.

The Baltimore Police Department has also endorsed the bill.

Andrew G. Vetter, the department's chief of staff, said officers often face an unenviable situation when confronting low-level offenses on the streets.

If the suspect can show identification, the officer is allowed to issue a citation instead of making an arrest. The officer can't do so if the person has no ID.

An arrest can make it more difficult for that person to get a job, and more likely they will be arrested in the future, Vetter said.

David Rocah, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said Scott's legislation has avoided the problems that other ID plans present, such as infringing on civil liberties. It creates no database and the personal information is destroyed, Rocah said.

"This proposal seems aimed at avoiding all of those problems," he said.

The Baltimore Finance Department has yet to determine a cost of issuing the cards. City officials said they are studying it.

Scott said he anticipates the ID cards would be available next year.

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