(TNS) — Lawmakers are scrambling to fix a problem that could result in Idaho driver's license holders being denied entry to federal facilities nationwide by the end of the year.
The issue arose last week, when the Idaho National Laboratory began enforcing the REAL ID Act.
The act, adopted in 2005, was a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It tries to limit the availability of false driver's licenses and identification cards by imposing detailed security requirements on states for issuing such cards.
Idaho is one of nine "non-compliant" states, meaning the U.S. Department of Homeland Security isn't satisfied with its efforts to implement the act.
Consequently, Idaho licenses and ID cards can no longer be used to gain entry to nuclear power plants, to restricted portions of the Homeland Security headquarters building or - as of Jan. 19 - to INL and certain other federal facilities (see related story, at right).
Beginning in October, that prohibition extends to all secure federal facilities, including military bases, research labs, federal courts and the White House. Starting no sooner than 2016, Idaho licenses also won't be valid for boarding commercial airline flights, which are federally regulated.
Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said lawmakers hope to resolve the problem this session.
"We've asked our Transportation Committee chairmen to look into it and get some information so we can understand it better," he said. "There's talk of creating a voluntary license that meets the (REAL ID) requirements."
Washington, for example, offers an enhanced driver's license that's accepted by Homeland Security. It requires proof of U.S. citizenship and costs about $20 more than a standard license.
"That's something we want to look at," Hill said. "I look at it like the enhanced concealed carry permit - you don't have to get one, but if you want a permit that's good in other states, it's available."
When Congress initially approved the ID act, many states objected. At least 17 adopted resolutions opposing the measure; seven, including Idaho and Washington, banned their transportation agencies from implementing it.
The Idaho prohibition was co-sponsored by Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, and Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston. Passed unanimously in 2008, it denounced REAL ID as an "attempt to commandeer the political machinery of the states and requires them to be agents of the federal government (in) violation of the principles of federalism contained in the 10th Amendment."
Lawmakers also saw it as an unfunded mandate. The estimated startup cost for Idaho was $20 million, plus $5 million in ongoing costs. Nationwide, the tab topped $3.9 billion for states, with private citizens chipping in another $5.8 billion.
The frustrating thing for Meridian Rep. Joe Palmer, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, is that Idaho recently revamped its driver's licenses, moving to a central printing plant and adding several security features designed to limit forgeries.
"Our cards are secure," he said.
However, Ed Pemble with the Idaho Transportation Department said REAL ID has more to do with how cards are issued than with card security.
"The onerous part of the act wasn't in changing the plastic, but in changing the process," he said. "It required us to re-enroll everyone who already had a driver's license or ID card. They'd have to 'prove' who they were all over again by bringing in birth certificates or marriage documents. We'd have to verify the documents, and if someone was turned down, the state would hold the (appeal) hearing, even though it's not our program."
Twenty states are now in compliance with the act. Another 21 are operating with exemptions from the Department of Homeland Security; they haven't met all the requirements of the act yet, but the agency feels they're making adequate progress.
The deadline for full enrollment was Dec. 1, 2014, for people born after 1964, and December 2017 for people born before that. However, both deadlines were recently extended to 2020, largely because millions of people still haven't replaced their licenses and ID cards.
The extension does not apply to non-compliant states.
Idaho asked Homeland Security for an exemption, but the request was denied.
In a Dec. 29 letter to Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter, the agency acknowledged that Idaho's procedures comport with more than 30 provisions of the act, including requiring proof of legal status, verifying Social Security numbers and birth certificates, adopting procedures to make sure applicants don't have multiple cards under different names, and storing ID photos and signatures in an easy-to-retrieve format.
Nevertheless, it declined to extend the state's enforcement deadline, primarily because Idaho hasn't committed to implementing the act. The only specific shortcomings cited include failing to re-verify an applicant's Social Security number and legal status before renewing an expired card, not marking temporary cards as temporary, and the lack of a Homeland Security-approved security marker.
Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary, said Brig. Gen. Brad Richy, director of Idaho's Bureau of Homeland Security, is talking with his federal counterparts to see what can be done.
"Push hasn't come to shove," he said. "We're proceeding with all deliberate speed, trying to get this resolved."
The governor also wants the Legislature to weigh in, Hanian said.
House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said there's general support for a voluntary fix, such as an enhanced license, but opposition to the act itself remains strong.
"There's no discussion that says we'll start following all the guidelines," he said.
©2015 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.