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Federal Government Gives States More Time on Real ID

This is the fourth time the federal government has given states more time to comply, even though agency officials told a U.S. House panel last spring there would be no further extensions.

Only 13 states issue driver’s licenses that comply with the federal Real ID law, but states that do not will have at least six months to bring their licenses up to those standards, the Department of Homeland Security announced last month.

This is the fourth time the federal government has given states more time to comply with Real ID, even though agency officials told a U.S. House panel last spring there would be no further extensions.

Technically, states that still do not comply with the Real ID law will get a waiver, rather than an extension. Even states that did not submit paperwork showing their progress in complying with the law will get a waiver. The waivers will last at least six months, as the Obama administration writes rules for a gradual enforcement of the law.

Residents of noncompliant states could eventually not be allowed to use their driver’s licenses to board planes or enter federal buildings without separate identification, such as a passport.

Real ID ignited a furor in state capitols when it was first passed in 2005, and it remains a contentious topic today.

States have bristled at the large costs of rolling out the law, which mandates how cards are issued, what information the cards must carry and a shared database to keep track of licenses throughout the country. Privacy advocates worried about the creation of this database, and the National Governors Association has called the Real ID Act “unworkable.” The National Conference of State Legislatures objected to giving a federal agency “permanent and ongoing authority for determining state license uses and requirements.”

Pennsylvania last year became the 16th state to refuse to comply with Real ID.

On the other hand, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez has used the law to support her campaign to prevent illegal immigrants from qualifying for driver’s licenses there. New Mexico is one of only three states to give undocumented immigrants driving privileges (Illinois is poised to become the fourth), and Martinez has warned residents that they will not be able to fly using their licenses unless the state law is changed.

The 9/11 Commission originally called for the law to prevent terrorists from obtaining legal identification. Congress adopted it as part of a larger budget bill. The law’s author, U.S. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, said the Obama administration “is not taking seriously the security risk of delaying Real ID implementation further.”

“Every step of the way, the administration has stonewalled implementation of this critical national security law,” Sensenbrenner said in a release. “They have not given states necessary and timely guidance, encouraging states not to comply with delay after delay.”But the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administers stressed that even states that rebuked the federal government on Real ID had improved the security of their driver’s licenses. The federal government could even decide to certify the licenses of noncompliant states, if those states made significant enough improvements, the group said.

The 13 states that already comply with Real ID are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Reprint courtesy of Stateline, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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