Maryland Lawmaker Warns Real ID Snafu Could Lead to License Confiscations

State police may take driver’s licenses mistakenly deemed to be Real ID compliant.

by Elaine S. Povich, Stateline / August 15, 2019
A sign at Thurgood Marshall Baltimore Washington International Airport warns travelers their driver’s license must be Real ID compliant to use as identification to fly after October 2020. A Maryland lawmaker plans to introduce a bill to protect people who have their licenses confiscated because they lack the proper backup documentation on file with the state. The Pew Charitable Trusts

A Maryland lawmaker, concerned that some state residents could have their driver’s licenses confiscated by police because they are not Real ID compliant, is planning legislation to ease such seizures.

Not all Marylanders are at risk of having their licenses seized — just those who have licenses that Maryland mistakenly marked as Real ID compliant before federal officials told the state that those licenses didn’t meet federal Real ID requirements.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration has asked law enforcement officials to confiscate licenses from drivers they stop if the driver is on the MVA’s list to provide additional documentation, police officials said. That could leave those residents in violation of laws requiring that they have their licenses with them when they drive.

“If a law enforcement officer pulls somebody over, and they have a flagged license, they would like the officer to confiscate it,” said Del. Eric Ebersole, a Democrat, in a telephone interview with Stateline. “This is where the real problem is right now. The law says you have to carry a license. Somebody in that situation would have to consider whether they could drive away from the traffic stop or not.”

MVA spokeswoman Adrienne Diaczok in an email said the department is reviewing Ebersole’s concerns. “We continue to work closely with law enforcement as well as our customers to ensure they are able comply with the requirements of federal Real ID Act,” she said.

Maryland State Police spokesman Gregory Shipley said all police in the state have been contacted by MVA and instructed, when they find a non-compliant Real ID, to explain to drivers that their license has been recalled and that they should “return to the MVA as soon as possible.”

The officer then is to take the license and give the driver an instruction sheet and envelope to address so officials can return the license once the paperwork has been completed, Shipley said. However, Shipley added that if drivers object, officers are instructed to let them keep their license, along with the recall instructions, and tell them to get it done.

“We are doing everything we can to avoid conflict over this issue,” he said.

He acknowledged that it is a violation to drive without a license but noted that police have discretion. “There could be someone who was just flagrant about this, but at the same time if the license has been recalled and they are not able to get back to the MVA at that time, we are not to be issuing citations for not having a license in possession in that situation,” he said in a phone interview.

In half a dozen states, including Maryland, delays and miscommunication are roiling Real ID implementation, calling into question whether residents will be ready for federal requirements that they have the enhanced driver’s license identification to travel by air or enter government restricted areas after October 2020.

Maryland, which initially issued the Real IDs without proper documentation due to a misunderstanding between state and federal officials on what was required, is sending notices to thousands of drivers saying if they don’t produce the additional documents, it would “result in a recall of your Maryland driver’s license or identification card.”

Ebersole said that recall could come during a traffic stop.

His legislation, which he plans to introduce in January when the legislature reconvenes, would allow an officer in a traffic stop to confiscate the license, but also provide a document the driver could use temporarily to allow them to operate a vehicle while they satisfy the Real ID requirements.

“I’m just trying to protect people from getting cited,” he said.

In a letter to MVA earlier this month, Ebersole outlined his concerns. He wrote that he had talked to several law enforcement agencies and detected discrepancies in how they plan to handle the non-compliant Real ID issue. The resulting confusion could take away from the goal of getting the Real IDs into compliance, he wrote.

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