New state laws allow for changes to driver’s license appearance

The photograph on a Texas driver’s license no longer has to be in color under a new law enacted this year by the 85th Texas Legislature. HB 1345 by Dale, which made the change, applies to a license issued or renewed on or after September 1, 2017. The Department of Public Safety (DPS) has not stated whether it will change photographs on driver’s licenses, only that the new law will allow the department to explore all options when the next contracting opportunity arises.

Texas has issued a plastic laminated license with a color photograph since 1968. HB 1345 amended Transportation Code, sec. 521.121(a) to remove the word “color” from the requirement that a non-commercial driver’s license include “a color photograph of the entire face of the holder.” This change mirrors a provision in HB 1888 by Capriglione, enacted in 2015 by the 84th Legislature, which removed the requirement that photographs for commercial driver’s licenses be in color.

Supporters of HB 1345 said that DPS should have the flexibility to issue licenses with the highest levels of security, durability, and quality, as well as the opportunity for a more competitive procurement process when the department considers future driver’s license technology. The bill would not require black-and-white photographs on driver’s licenses, supporters said, but merely would remove the requirement that images be in color.

While some voiced concerns that allowing Texas to return to black-and-white images might be a step backward for public safety, supporters said the bill was necessary to authorize DPS to use superior technologies, such as etching or laser engraving, that provide additional security from counterfeiting but cannot produce a color image. At least five states and the District of Columbia currently laser engrave photographs on their driver’s licenses, and the United States is among several countries that use this technology for certain international identification cards.

Another law enacted by the 85th Legislature also will affect the appearance of Texas driver’s licenses. HB 1823 by Canales requires accents, tildes, umlauts, and other diacritical marks used in a person’s name to be properly recorded on all driver’s licenses, learner’s permits, and personal identification certificates issued or renewed on or after January 1, 2019.

by MacKenzie Nunez

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