The Northfield City Council voted Tuesday to be the first city in Minnesota to implement a municipal identification card program.

The council will need to vote again to formally approve the ordinance Dec. 12, but it voted 7-0 Tuesday to approve the program, which will allow residents of Northfield to garner ID cards, which could be used for various purposes within the city. At every city meeting on the proposed ID cards, large crowds gathered at city hall and Tuesday was no different. When the motion passed, the crowd erupted into cheers.

“Thank you for your grassroots efforts,” Mayor Rhonda Pownell said. “It is truly a Northfield thing that so many would show up for such an important topic.”

Several Latino community members spoke at the meeting, including Arique Aguilar, who shared it cost her family more than $5,000 and years of hardship for her husband to obtain a visa. She said the municipal ID could’ve helped alleviate those difficulties.

“It is not just a racial equity issue, it is also an economic equity issue and a gender equity issue,” she said.

Participation in the proposed ID card program would be voluntary. Residents of Northfield would have the option to pay a small fee to get a card with their full legal name, preferred name, gender identification, date of birth, address and photograph.

The ID card would not be a driver’s license or a tool for voting. Advocates hope it could be a form of identification, which, depending on the interest of local businesses, could be used to open bank accounts, pick up medicine at the pharmacy and make returns at local stores. The card may also benefit certain holders by offering the opportunity to select one’s gender, listing allergies and emergency contacts, in addition to proving Northfield residency.

Supporters say the cards will be useful to anyone who is unable to access official Minnesota ID cards, which require United States documentation, but they’re less useful if local businesses don’t accept them. Advocates hope to see added benefits to issuing the IDs — like discounts at local businesses, entry to certain events in town and other perks.

City Administrator Ben Martig said the card should be usable for verifying residence when paying city fees — i.e. entrance to the community swimming pool. An option will also be available for the IDs to double as library cards. Martig said staff is working with local bank, pharmacy and hospital leaders to see how useful the cards could be outside city operations.

“We heard from some banks there could be real applicable uses for the cards,” he said. “Check cashing, secondary form of identification.”

He noted pharmacies are more of a “gray area.”

The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy told members of Neighbors United the ID cards “should be accepted by Minnesota pharmacists for dispensing of Schedule II or III controlled substances (amphetamine, Vicodin, Tylenol with codeine, etc.) and products containing pseudoephedrine (like cold medicine).” However, staff found in its research that the board isn’t an enforcement wing, and the decisions would likely come down to the local pharmacies.

Martig also reported that Northfield Hospital staff said it supported the cards and could see some possible uses, thought specifics are yet to be determined.

The primary cost of the program would be for equipment and staff time, but a $10-20 fee for the cards would likely cover those costs.

Reach Associate Editor Philip Weyhe at 507-333-3132 or follow him on Twitter @nfnphilweyhe.

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