As Real ID kicks in 11 May, some states may be left in limbo

Published 31 March 2008

Beginning 11 May, individuals who want to enter federal buildings or board a plane will have to show a state driver’s license complying with the Real ID Act — unless their state has been granted an extension by DHS (the extension is until 11 October 2009); Maine and South Carolina do not have Real ID-compliant licenses, and they are yet to apply for an extension (the deadline is today)

You live in Maine or South Carolina? Too bad: Starting in May, driver’s licenses issued in these two states may not be accepted as identification at airports and federal buildings unless the states work out a last-minute agreement with DHS. The states are refusing to ask the agency to extend the deadline for applying new layers of security in their identification systems as required under the federal Real ID Act. Congress passed the legislation in 2005 with the intention of making it harder for terrorists to obtain driver’s licenses. The New York Times’s Katie Zezima writes that tThe final Real ID regulations were released on 11 January, and states have until today to request an extension of the compliance date. Without an extension, driver’s licenses from Maine and South Carolina will no longer be deemed valid as identification at airports and federal buildings starting 11 May, the original date of compliance. As an alternative, travelers could use passports. “If an individual shows up at an airport on May 11 or later and their licenses are from any state not in compliance, it’s effectively showing up without federal identification of any kind,” said Amy Kudwa, a spokeswoman for DHS. “Individuals in those scenarios will have to have added security and screening.”

Maine and South Carolina are among a number of states that have passed laws barring participation in the Real ID program. The others have all won extensions, and Maine and South Carolina hope to be granted extensions as well, without formally requesting them. Many states are concerned about cost, privacy, and the federal government’s encroaching on a program traditionally left to the states. This past week extensions were granted to Montana and New Hampshire after their governors sent letters to DHS detailing steps taken to tighten license security. The governors refused to ask for a waiver because, they said, state law prohibited any participation in the program. The agency granted each state a waiver anyway, saying the plans passed muster. Governor John Baldacci of Maine, a Democrat, sent a similar letter this week, and his office is in ongoing negotiations with the department. A spokesman for Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a Republican, said he would likely send some type of correspondence Monday. “There is no wiggle room in South Carolina law in terms of asking for an extension,” Joel Sawyer, the spokesman, said. “If Washington wants a more secure form of ID, then Washington ought to be able to pay for it.” Don Cookson, a spokesman for Maine’s secretary of state, Matthew Dunlap, who oversees the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles, said privacy was a major concern, as license information would be pooled into a federal database. Mr. Cookson said the state hoped for an extension. “People are calling us, bothered at the notion that they will need a federally issued U.S. passport for domestic travel,” Cookson said.

How to handle states with laws prohibiting the carrying out of Real ID will be an issue for the next administration. The extension is good until 11 October 2009, at which time states can apply for even more time. According to the law, all states must start issuing licenses that meet the law’s standards by 1 January 2010. Jeff Monroe, director of ports and transportation for the city of Portland, Maine, said increased security requirements would heavily affect the relatively small Portland Jetport. “We are wondering how in heaven’s name we are going to deal with having to put up a fair amount of secondary screening,” Mr. Monroe said. Fliers at the Jetport who have Maine licenses would be plucked out of security lines to undergo additional screening, and all fliers would need to arrive at least two hours before boarding, he said. “We absolutely recognize what the federal government wants to get accomplished,” he said. “What I hope does not happen is that the traveling public does not get inconvenienced in the middle of these conversations.”