Starting on March 1, 2014, Virginians will be able to purchase a certified copy of their birth certificates from their local Department of Motor Vehicles office. The result of a partnership between the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and the Virginia Department of Health, made possible by legislation that I sponsored during the 2013 Virginia General Assembly Session, this program will improve the way we serve our constituents in Virginia.

One of the basic tenets of modern government is that all citizens should have equal access to the services their government provides, regardless of where they live. Yet, I often ask myself why a Virginian living in my district should be forced to drive more than 100 miles to obtain a copy of their birth certificate or other vital record in person. Currently, more than 9,000 Virginians each month are served by the Virginia Division of Vital Records (housed within the Department of Health). Many of these customers must make the trip to the division’s sole office, located in Richmond, Va., to purchase documents that they need (usually immediately) to obtain crucial government services.

For some, the trip can take longer than seven hours. Surely, I hoped, we could do better than this.

Prior to this legislation, Virginia DMV had already taken action to alleviate some of this burden.  Birth certificates are the primary means for citizens to prove that they are legally present in the United States, which is a prerequisite to obtaining a new driver’s license or ID card (or restoring one lost because of revocation, suspension or expiration). However, many customers fail to bring this document with them to DMV. In the past, DMV had no alternative but to turn the customer away.  In an attempt to solve this problem, DMV has joined the Electronic Verification of Vital Events (EVVE) network, which allows the agency to electronically verify the birth certificates of customers born in Virginia and 31 other participating states. Still, what if the citizen needs a physical copy of his or her birth certificate for other uses?

With the implementation of this legislation (Senate Bill 1039), these customers will be able to leave a DMV office with that physical copy. Beginning on March 1, 2014, Virginians can purchase Virginia birth certificates from 1912 to the present. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2015, they will be able to purchase all other Virginia birth, death, marriage and divorce records from any of the Virginia DMV’s 75 brick-and-mortar offices around the commonwealth (plus another five mobile “offices on wheels”).  Each transaction will be secure and confidential, and the identity and personal records of our citizens will have the highest level of protection.

Fortunately, the modern DMV is not your father’s DMV. Lines are much shorter and more efficient with new automation and the availability of online purchases. This has resulted in additional capacity at our DMVs that can be filled with true customer service programs such as vital records. I believe that government should find ways to serve the people, not the other way around. I consider this just the beginning. In the future I hope to see Virginians who live as far away as Loudoun, Wise and Accomack counties have the same convenient access to all parts of their state government as someone living in downtown Richmond.

Virginia’s DMV has a history of successful interagency partnerships, pairing up with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to sell hunting licenses, fishing licenses and boat titles, as well as the Department of Veterans Services to sell the popular Virginia veterans ID cards. Under the leadership of Commissioner Richard Holcomb, DMV has truly proven to be exemplars of government efficiency and customer-focused service. Together with the Virginia Department of Health, under the leadership of Dr. Cynthia Romero, I know that this partnership will be tremendously successful, both for their agencies and the people of Virginia.

It is an example I encourage all of my colleagues to follow.  

Virginia State Senator Stephen D. NewmanVirginia State Senator Stephen D. Newman represents the 23rd District, and serves on the committees on Finance, Rules, Commerce and Labor, and Education and Health, and is chairman of the Committee on Transportation.