19 April 2011

Federalism

Slightly more than two centuries ago some of the most gifted minds on the continent decided that confederation wasn’t really working out all that well, so they decided to take a crack at federalism instead. Really it was a brilliant way to promote unity among the states while preserving liberty and preventing tyranny. The basic idea of federalism was that sovereignty would be shared between the state governments and the national government. The national government has the authority to do things like regulate interstate commerce and the state governments get to do things like establish a public education system. It’s a great idea, and one of those things that makes you proud to be an American. But sometimes federalism can be a real headache.

For example, I did my EMT training and certification in Colorado. I lived in Utah when the Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City. I thought it would be fun to be a medical volunteer for the Olympics, so I went to apply. I was told not to bother. Public safety falls in the realm of state sovereignty, so my EMT certification was not valid in Utah. I guess CPR might change when crossing state borders. Apparently only those who were trained and certified in Utah were properly qualified to medically assist the international community at the Olympics in 2002.

When we made plans to move to Idaho, I needed to get an Idaho teaching certificate in order to apply for jobs. I called the state board of education to find out what I needed to do. The list seemed pretty straight forward: fill out an application, send a copy of my Texas certification, and pay the appropriate fees. The last step was to be fingerprinted for a background check. Texas does background checks on teachers quite frequently, so I wondered if the information could be shared without having to duplicate the process. When I mentioned that Texas had a recent background check already on file I was told, “That doesn’t matter. We need your Idaho fingerprints.” Really. Idaho fingerprints. I’m pretty sure my fingerprints are not dependent on my location. In fact I think that last year when we went to London and Paris my fingerprints were exactly the same as they have been in Colorado, Utah, and Texas (each states where I have been fingerprinted for various reasons).

The largest federalism headache by far started with the Texas highway patrol. Shortly after moving to Texas I was pulled over for speeding. I have a theory about speeding tickets: If you’re going too fast to notice the cop and slow down, you’re going too fast to be safe so you deserve the ticket. I didn’t notice the cop in time to slow down, and although I was annoyed, I was prepared to accept the speeding ticket that was coming. But he didn’t just give me a speeding ticket. He looked at my Colorado driver’s license and asked me how long I had been in Texas. I told him when I moved, and he informed me that in Texas you have thirty days to change your license. Since I had passed the thirty day window he issued me a ticket for not having a valid Texas license. The fact that I had a valid Colorado license was irrelevant. I was particularly incensed because I had only missed the thirty day deadline by two days.

A few days later I made the trip to the department of transportation to get the appropriate license. I was expecting to walk in with my Colorado license, spend an inordinate amount of time waiting in line, perhaps take a test, and walk out with a Texas license. I look back and laugh at how na├»ve I was. I was prepared to handle the standard inconveniences of federalism, but I was completely blindsided by the utter ridiculousness of Texas Nationalism. After waiting for three hours in line it was finally my turn to approach the desk. I told the worker that I needed a Texas driver’s license. She asked to see a Texas vehicle registration. At the time I was student teaching, and was driving a car that belonged to my parents. I told her that I didn’t own a vehicle. She insisted that she must see a Texas registration in order to issue a Texas driver’s license. After a rather lengthy conversation where she insisted that everyone that has ever gotten a driver’s license in Texas has also had a car registered in Texas, I asked to speak to her manager. He conceded the point, but asked to see my social security card. I didn’t have my social security card with me, so I left without a Texas license.

The following week I returned with my social security card in hand, certain that this time I would be able to obtain a Texas driver’s license. After waiting only an hour and a half, I approached the desk. The employee asked to see three forms of ID. I showed her my Colorado license and social security card, and asked her what other forms of ID could count for the third. She said, “Well, I guess your Colorado license can count as one ID.” I repeated my question and she told me that I needed to show her a passport or birth certificate. So once again I left without a Texas license.

On my third trip I arrived with all the appropriate documentation and waited in line for two hours. When I approached the desk I was greeted by an irate man who rather unpleasantly asked me why I was bothering him. I told him that I had recently moved and needed to obtain a Texas driver’s license. He rolled his eyes at me and asked to see my current license. I handed him my Colorado license which he promptly cut up. Then he took my picture, wrote down my address, and told me my new license would arrive in the mail within the month. I asked him what I should do until it came. He pulled a form out of his drawer, slammed it on the desk, and hurriedly scribbled in the information that indicated that I had applied for a Texas driver’s license, and that its arrival was pending. Then he sent me on my way without asking to see any further identification. I left a third time without a Texas license. At this point I decided that the state of Texas did not have any standard requirements for receiving a driver’s license. Instead, all employees of the Department of Transportation hold the authority to make up whatever provisions they deem necessary to ensure that all drivers in Texas have been appropriately harassed before being allowed to navigate the horrendous traffic for which they are famous.