State set to launch online licenses Realtors will become 1st professionals with electronic renewals

November 28, 1997|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Maryland's Electronic Capital, the 2-year-old online service that provides information about dozens of state agencies, is about to make a major shift toward its ultimate goal -- allowing the public to conduct state business by home or office computer.

In January, 40,000 Realtors will be the first of 175,000 professionals to be able to renew their state licenses electronically 24 hours a day.

The project is among the features bringing national attention to the Electronic Capital, which has helped place Maryland near the top among states applying digital technologies to the business of government.

Prodded and persuaded by the governor, virtually every state agency is cooking up ideas.

In the not too distant future, any resident with access to the Internet might be able to pay property taxes or traffic fines, and apply for a building permit or fishing license without licking a stamp or standing in line, state officials say.

"I literally picture a Realtor waking up in the middle of the night with insomnia and going down to his computer to renew his license," Gov. Parris N. Glendening said this week.

More than 14,000 motorists have enjoyed partial benefits since the state this year began offering driver's license renewals from 10 computer kiosks set up in malls and other public buildings around the state.

"We're entering a whole new era," Glendening said. "We see the potential as almost unlimited. It's very exciting to be able to deliver services this professionally and efficiently."

In a recent study by the Washington-based Progress & Freedom Foundation, Maryland ranked fifth in the nation for advances in using computer technology for government business.

Still a month from start-up, electronic licensing in Maryland is attracting attention around the country. During the next two years, it will be extended for contractors, engineers, cosmetologists, accountants and other professionals overseen by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

"So far, I have received requests from 11 states for information about this, all of them fervently wishing our success," said Harry Loleas, deputy commissioner of the department. The licensing system will be featured Tuesday and Wednesday during the Maryland Technology Showcase at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Believed to be the first in the nation, the licensing project represents a benchmark on several fronts.

In practical terms, professionals will be able to log on to renew a license (and pay for it by credit card) any hour of the day. Until now, handling the applications and compiling the paperwork has often meant hours of work for licensees or the companies where they work, depending on the profession and its licensing requirements.

After calling up the Electronic Capital's World Wide Web site at www.mec.state.md.us, applicants should need no more than a few minutes, Loleas said.

Before long, the system also will offer a new benefit to the public -- the ability to tap in and find out whether a professional being considered for employment is licensed or has ever been disciplined by the state.

In terms of accuracy, the new system will replace one that had become notoriously unreliable at keeping track of who held licenses, many say. For instance, when the state Real Estate Commission last year released a copy of its computer tapes of licensed Realtors, "it was a disaster," said Nick D'Ambrosia, general manager of Coldwell Banker Stevens in Oxon Hill.

"Some of the people on the tapes were no longer associated with the companies they were supposed to be associated with, some had been out of business a few years, some people who had died were still listed as active agents," he said.

In addition, backlogs and other quirks in the system frequently delayed license renewals.

Under the new system, "the time savings for the broker will be huge, and the assurance for the agent that the license has been renewed is going to be there," D'Ambrosia said.

Besides simplifying the process for professionals, the electronic system promises to ease the deluge of paperwork that routinely piles up on a staff of eight in Baltimore, where days often start early and end late.

The savings for the state should be significant, if the electronic driver's license renewals are an indication: Processing costs have been cut by $1.50 per license.

State employees anticipate the personal benefits electronic licensing will provide.

"It's going to mean I get to take all of my vacation next year," said Hilda Carr, a 27-year employee who supervises the staff. "And I won't be crazy."

Pub Date: 11/28/97

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