State set for new license system
Written by South Bend Tribune   
Sunday, 09 January 2005 12:24

Buying Indiana hunting and fishing licenses should be a lot easier this year as the Department of Natural Resources launches an electronic, point-of-sale (POS) system.

At least that's the plan.

Indiana joins 27 other states, including Michigan, that now issue electronically-produced licenses. It should make all licenses available any time a sportsmen walks into a retail outlet. Hoosier officials say there's less paperwork and bookkeeping required by the tackle shop owner, the DNR gets its money faster, and makes all licenses available any time a sportsmen requests it from an authorized license vendor.

Under the old system, retailers carried only those licenses that sold well and had problems keeping them in stock during peak seasons. License information was recorded by hand and the antiquated method deprived fish and wildlife managers from immediate licensing data for budgeting and federal funding accountability.

The special, internet-driven equipment was supposed to be installed by the manufacturer this month with the goal of having it functioning before 2004 licenses expire. However, Dick Parker of Central Park Bait in Mishawaka, said Thursday he has yet to receive his equipment and was told by a DNR spokesman that the process was running behind.

"I can't sell last year or next year's license until I get the equipment," he said. "I've had a few people come in who needed licenses, but I had nothing to sell them."

Once the system is up and running, a customer tells the retailer the type of license he wants and provides either a social security or driver's license number. The clerk plugs the info into the special computer system, then prints the license.

After the first year, sportsmen will only have to provide name and date of birth.

Indiana has opted for internet-based equipment rather than the dial-up, credit card machine used by most states, including Michigan.

Michigan retailers have a single box in which numbers are punched into a keypad or a driver's license is swiped to record personal information. Hoosier retailers get a monitor, keyboard and CPU valued at $800. Vendors who sold licenses as of last November receive the equipment and a computer dial-up connection for free. Newer vendors must post a $350 deposit and pay for their own connection.

Assistant Fish and Wildlife Director Gregg McCollam said the system was purchased from an Indiana company and less expensive.

"We wanted to keep the business in Indiana," he said. "State government already has a internet port hole provider that has developed state applications, so it was a good fit. We got good reports from states that utilize the same system."

The DNR bought the equipment with lifetime license money.

McCollam says start-up costs are expected to run about $1.2 million and $645,000 in subsequent years.

"This should make us more efficient and enhance license sales," he explained. "We know we missed sales because retailers ran out or didn't order licenses that don't sell well."

Non-resident licenses are a good example. Retailers were hesitant to tie up their money in licenses that don't sell throughout a season. With the new system, all licenses are accessible without bonding. The DNR will collect fees electronically on a weekly basis.

Retailers keep 75 cents of each license they sell. The state's cost in each license is about 40 cents per license.

Approximately 930,000 licenses were sold last year.

"The system will allow us to get to know our constituents better and analyze statistical data much faster," added McCollam.

"We think it will increase our federal reimbursement money, because we can now certify our numbers rather than doing it with a conservative estimate."

States are reimbursed in federal excise funds for each license they sell.

Once fully operational, the system could assist conservation officers, too. They can access background information about violators they ticket and verify licensing information via computer equipment installed in their vehicles. If you say you have a license but lost it, they can check it out. Previously, that information wasn't readily available.

"We're exploring additional ways to use the system to help us improve resource management," said McCollam.

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