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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Louisiana Drivers Now Have to Register for the Draft?

ALEXANDRIA (AP) - When Larry Chevalier took his son to get his first driver's license, he was floored to discover that to get it, the boy had to preregister for a nonexistent military draft.

''I just can't believe it,'' said Chevalier, whose 16-year-old son, Nathan, did fill out the form to register with the Selective Service so he could get his license.

''They wouldn't let him get it otherwise,'' Chevalier said Saturday.

Even a 15-year-old boy who wants a learner's permit in Louisiana must provide information to be forwarded, when he turns 18, to the Selective Service System, which would run a military draft if one is set up again.

The same goes for any 16- 17- or 18-year-old who wants his - the law applies only to males - first driver's license or state ID card.
''They can't even be a conscientious objector to signing up,'' said Chevalier, of Glenmora.

The state forwards the information to a federal center which holds it until the boy's 18th birthday, when he is old enough to enter military service. It is used to automatically register him with Selective Service.

Nobody much noticed the law when the Legislature passed it in 2003. What got people's attention that year was a law to suspend the licenses of some students expelled or suspended from high school.

Rudy Sanchez, general counsel for the federal Selective Service System, was also floored to learn that 15-year-olds were being asked to preregister. ''Louisiana shouldn't be registering 15-year-olds. We don't even register 16-year-olds,'' he said last week.

Federal law only provides for ''early submission'' of information by a young man who is at least 17 years and three months old, he noted. When he turns 18, it is forwarded to the proper database.

The law requires only that young men register within 30 days before or after their 18th birthdays.

Other states have passed laws requiring young men to register with Selective Service when they get a driver's license, but none requires it of 15-year-olds, he said.

Everett Bonner, state director of Selective Service, said information collected by the Office of Motor Vehicles is forwarded to a federal data management center in Chicago.

''They do accept it. I can promise you. They do not process it until the young man turns 18,'' he said.

He said registering young men when they get their drivers' licenses is a convenience and a way to help those who don't know they must register. Anyone failing to register is ''considered a felon without conviction,'' he said, and may lose opportunities and benefits. Chevalier questioned how the state can force a minor child to ''sign on the dotted line'' without his parents' consent.

Bonner said parents must sign for a minor to get a driver's license and that should suffice for draft registration as well.
''What I don't like is somebody having all this information about kids and somebody sitting up there in some private meeting discussing how many young people they have available for the draft in two years,'' Chevalier said.

There is no national military draft, and the major presidential candidates all said repeatedly that they don't plan to reinstate one.
Chevalier said he himself was ''too young for Vietnam and too old for anything afterward,'' but his family has a tradition of military service. ''Somebody in my family has served in every war since the Revolutionary War,'' he said.

It doesn't bother him that his son would have to sign up with Selective Service when he turns 18. ''But to be signing up kids at 15 and 16 years old, I do have a problem with that,'' he said.

''All this is to where the government can get a closer eye on the kids. I really believe it's going against their civil liberties.''
The bill's sponsor was Hunt Downer, an assistant adjutant general in the National Guard and former House speaker whom Gov. Kathleen Blanco appointed in August to head the new Department of Veterans Affairs.

Young men at a recent YMCA-sponsored driver's education course shrugged when they learned of the requirement.

''I don't care,'' said Mark Fontenot, a 16-year-old student at Apostolic Christian Academy.
Pineville High School student Josh Stokes, 15, said, ''I think it's good.'

Neither would elaborate.

''I think it's all right. I can't do anything about it anyway,'' said Stephen White, 16 and a student at Alexandria Senior High School.

Chevalier said he plans to do something, or at least try. He plans to submit a report to the American Civil Liberties Union, and is putting together information packets to send to all state legislators.

''They said it was to make it easier on an 18-year-old. How can they say it makes it easier on an 18-year-old when it's putting more pressure on a 15-year-old?'' he said.

--Beauregard Daily News, DeRidder, LA, Nov 17

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