Phoenix City Council's Reluctance to Approve a City ID Card Infuriates Many

The Phoenix council has a proposal before it to create municipal ID cards.
The Phoenix council has a proposal before it to create municipal ID cards.

Supporters of a municipal identification card that Phoenix residents could use to access city services or use as a valid proof of identity say Phoenix City Council members have the votes to approve the plan but have refused to do it. 

“At this point, there is very little excuse for why they haven’t moved forward on this,” said Viridiana Hernandez, co-founder of One PHX ID, a coalition of about 100 business groups and civic organizations that support the ID card. “There are no real barriers in front of them. They have the votes. They have the power. They can pass this.”

The idea behind the plan is to create a unified ID card that allows Phoenix residents to more conveniently access the city’s light-rail or bus systems, as well as other public services like 

parks, libraries, recreation and community centers, and senior centers. It’s very similar to the municipal ID card that the New York City Council launched this year.

The card would include personal information—such as photo, age, height, and weight—and function as a proof of identity for Phoenix residents. Supporters say this would be beneficial for those who struggle to obtain valid identification, such as the homeless and undocumented immigrants. The card would also allow members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community to select the gender of their preference.

While the ID card would not confer legal status to individuals, critics from the No One PHX ID say they worry that a municipal ID would be used to try to “legitimize” the status of undocumented immigrants who live in Phoenix.

In April, the Phoenix City Council voted 5-4 to allow city staff to research the process it would take to roll out the municipal ID card. But since then, little progress has been made, and that's frustrating people, like Hernandez, who helped some City Council members get elected. Among the council members who've voiced support for the ID card are Laura Pastor, Kate Gallego, and Daniel Valenzuela.

Hernandez said there’s still a viable chance to get the plan approved. She’s hoping Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who sets the City Council’s agenda, will bring it up for a vote before the end of the year.

But Stanton's representative said the mayor is concerned about the high price tag associated with creating the ID card, especially now that the city is facing a multi-million dollar deficit.

At a subcommittee meeting in September, officials said the city would have to pay $5 million to launch the municipal ID card. Stanton’s representative said the mayor has been supportive of the card from the beginning but that it has to be revenue neutral.

Hernandez disputed the city’s estimated cost of implementing the municipal ID card. She said a financial institution, like a bank or a credit union, would administrate the card. Residents would go to these institutions and pay between $10 and $15 to get the ID.

“We’re not asking the city to run the program or to fund it,” she said. “What we’re pretty much asking the city to do is to license this program and pass policy that says that this ID card is 

valid throughout the city.”

Councilman Michael Nowakowski said he understands the frustration supporters are feeling and noted he has been pushing for the card since 2012. He said that’s around the time his office began getting calls from Phoenix residents who said they were getting arrested for lack of ID, even when they called police to report a crime.

Nowakowski, who chairs the Public Safety and Veterans Subcommittee, recently asked Phoenix police officers to look into whether or not they would accept the municipal ID card as proof of identity. He hopes to get a report from them by December.

Meantime, Nowakowski said supporters should continue to call the mayor and council members “to let them know their frustration.”

“Until the pressure is at the mayor’s level and at the council members’ level, this isn’t going to go anywhere,” he said.

But Hernandez said she and others from One PHX ID already have been doing this. They’ve also collected about 12,000 pledge cards from Phoenix residents who support the municipal ID card, hired an attorney to draft the policy, and gotten New York City officials to come talk to council members about how they launched their city’s municipal ID card. One PHX ID also has a marketing plan—and funding for it—ready to go. 

“Right now, all they have to do is have the vote,” she said.

Supporters plan to have an action outside City Hall on Tuesday and will attend City Council meetings over the next few weeks to highlight stories of people who'd benefit from having a municipal ID card.

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