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Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge 

Louisiana could become the first state in the nation that offers an electronic copy of a driver’s license, which motorists could access through an app on their iPhones or other devices.

Legislation to do just that — House Bill 481 — won approval Monday in the Louisiana House Transportation Committee.

The measure next faces action in the full House.

Under law, the state’s 2.9 million motorists are required to carry hard copies of their driver’s license when operating a car or truck.

The bill would give them the option of also downloading a copy of their license through an app that would be offered by the state Office of Motor Vehicles.

The app would show the front and back of the driver’s license and would serve as the same valid ID as the traditional license, officials said.

“It is just added protection for that person who may have lost it, it may have slipped somewhere; and if you choose to have it on that application 99 percent of the time, you will find your phone before your driver’s license,” Karen St. Germain, commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles, said in an interview.

“It doesn’t negate your having to have your hard copy for lots of other things,” St. Germain said. “But it does give you an option.”

OMV officials said while a handful of other states are testing similar plans through pilot projects, Louisiana could become the first nationally to offer an electronic driver’s license through state law.

St. Germain said she thinks the option would be especially popular with drivers under 35.

“Ten years from now, you probably won’t even need to get a credential,” said Staci Hoyt, deputy assistant secretary for OMV.

“That’s just the wave of the future,” Hoyt said of the proposed electronic option. “No kids want to have to have to carry anything around with them.”

State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, sponsor of the bill, said his legislation would prohibit law enforcement officials from randomly searching an iPhone or other device that carries the driver’s license app.

State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge and a member of the committee, said James’ proposal makes sense in the digital age. “I think it is a great bill,” Marcelle said.

State officials said motorists would pay $3 to $5 to download the app, and the same when their driver’s license is renewed.

They compared the option to insurance companies allowing their customers to download an app to show proof of insurance.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/