New York State driver's licenses will get a new design that includes black-and-white photos under a contract approved this week by the state comptroller.
Despite complaints that the plan hikes costs for taxpayers, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli approved the $70.5 million contract on Wednesday, and the state expects to begin issuing the new licenses later this year.
The new design will use a polycarbonate, laser-engraved material that will include black-and-white photos instead of the current color photos. The new cards are more expensive to produce, but proponents say they are more difficult to alter to make into fake IDs.
Approval of the contract was delayed last summer after the losing bidders claimed the selection process was flawed and that the plan would cost taxpayers millions of dollars more annually. Some state lawmakers also raised questions about the cost of the winning bid.
DiNapoli's office reviewed the bid process and found nothing improper, clearing the way for the Department of Motor Vehicles to begin implementing the new plan.
"The contract award was based on established criteria, which was applied consistently to all bidders," DiNapoli spokeswoman Kate Gurnett said.
However, one of the losing bidders, British-based De La Rue, said Thursday it will pursue a legal challenge to void the contract. The company has had the contract to produce New York licenses for 16 years, and called the selection process "profoundly flawed."
"We value our relationship with New York State and we value the state's business," the company said in a statement. "Because we believe the DMV selection process warrants further scrutiny, De La Rue will resume its legal challenge to the decision in state Supreme Court."
The 11 million licensed drivers in New York will not have to get the new cards until renewal time every eight years.
The new contractor, CBN Secure Technologies of Danville, Va., is owned by Canadian Bank Note based in Ottawa. A company spokesman said the firm's niche is "high security" and the laser-engraved process prevents alteration of the photos. The company also produces licenses for the state of Virginia.
"We're ready to get going on it," said Gordon McKechnie, a CBN vice president. "
Convenience store owners were some of the loudest critics of the plan when it took shape last year, saying the black-and-white photos might make it more difficult for clerks to use in identifying customers. After seeing the design, "our members are satisfied that this will work and it will cut down on counterfeiting and fake IDs and help us do our job in preventing underage sales," said Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores.
Drivers under 21 will have a different card design to make them easy to detect.
The other firm that filed a protest with the comptroller, MorphoTrust USA, Inc., declined to comment Thursday.