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New driver's license fee — $40 — is too high say senators

Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson
Especially for legal residents

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Police Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson has confirmed that it's $40 for a driver’s license issued to a foreigner, who is legally allowed to reside in American Samoa, and the license is only valid — for example one year — based on the legal resident’s Immigration ID.

Additionally, the renewable cost, every year, is also $40, in accordance with a provision of the American Samoa REAL ID Act, signed into law last October under which the new driver’s license cost is also $40 and valid for 5 years.

The American Samoa law is part of the territory’s efforts to fully comply with the stringent provision of the federal REAL ID Act, which was enacted in 2005 and establishes a national set of standards for state driver’s licenses and identification cards that are accepted by the federal government for official purposes.

Le’i along with local Department of Homeland Security director Samana Semo Ve’ave’a appeared yesterday for a Senate Public Safety/Homeland Security Committee hearing, called by chairman Sen. Fa’amausili Mau Jr., to address — among other things — concerns from other senators and complaints from the public over the $40 fee charged for a license issued to a legal resident, and valid only for the length of the Immigration ID, usually one year.

Samoa News has received similar complaints from the public.

At least three legal residents, who are from Samoa, say their Immigration IDs — which are valid for one year — expire in July and August this year; and they were issued driver’s licenses valid only up to July and August this year, and no explanation was given to them on why.

They told Samoa News that the fee notice at the Office of Motor Vehicles doesn’t explain the limitation given to individuals with Immigration IDs

Some business representatives told Samoa News that they have workers facing this same problem — having a driver’s license that is valid for less than a year and still paying $40.

During the Senate hearing, Le’i pointed to a provision of the American Samoa REAL ID Act, under the Limited Term Driver’s License. The cost is $40 — which is the same cost for the 5-year driver’s licenses issued mainly to US citizens and nationals.

(According to provision of the law, a “limited term driver’s license” is valid only during the period the applicant is allowed to stay in the United States — including American Samoa.)

Le’i explained that in issuing driver’s licenses, OMV first complies with local immigration law, and this means the “Limited Term License” expires the same time as the driver’s immigration ID.

Some senators were disappointed to hear this clarification, saying the cost is too high for a license that is valid for only a year.

Le’i explained that the specific type of card used by OMV, as well as equipment — which is high tech — and materials used for the issuance of these licenses to ensure compliance with the federal REAL ID Act, are very expensive.

He recalled a House committee hearing last year on the American Samoa REAL ID Act bill, where they gave a cost analysis and suggested to hike the 5-year license fee from $40 — as proposed in the bill — to $100, while the LTL increases to $50 up from $40 as proposed in the bill.

However, he said, in the end, the bill passed by the Fono and approved by the governor last October was the $40 one.

Sen. Magalei Logovi’i argued that $40 is very expensive for those who are faced with renewals every year. He said “we all have family from Samoa” and they are faced with this dilemma — paying this amount every year for a renewal.

The Tualauta senator says he supports Le’i’s suggestion of $100 for the driver’s license that is valid for 5 years; and other senators agreed.

At the end of the hearing committee chairman Faamausili said the Senate could look at revising the law, to hike the 5-year driver’s license fee up to $100.