Wisconsin drivers inconvenienced by Real ID Act

Published 18 May 2007

The Real ID Act mandates that state begin to issue hard-to-forge biometric driver licenses by May 2008, and Wisconsin calculates the cost of compliance

Nearly one in three Wisconsin drivers will have to renew their driver’s licenses early under a federal antiterrorism law — and all drivers must have identification complying with the federal Real ID law by May 2013, according to the state Department of Transportation. Wisconsin license renewals are good for eight years, and the requirement would affect about 1.2 million of Wisconsin’s 4 million drivers.

The licenses that have to be renewed early will have the same expiration dates, frocing drivers to return to driver’s license stations in just a few years. In consideration, state authorities said that these drivers will not have to pay for the licenses when they renew them early. Other drivers would begin paying $10 more for licenses starting next year under a budget provision that advanced Thursday.

Congress passed the Real ID law in May 2005 to make it harder to forge identification cards and block illegal immigrants from getting licenses. DHS is scheduled to publish final rules in August which could change the cost of complying with the law. If those rules do not change, 1.2 million Wisconsin drivers whose licenses expire after 11 May 2013 will get letters from the state DOT telling them to come in early to renew their licenses. The first letters would go out in 2009 and would be spread over four years. “It’s going to be a logistical nightmare,” said Patrick Fernan, the DOT’s driver services director.

Anyone renewing their licenses will have to present proof of citizenship with a birth certificate or other document, even if the person has had a Wisconsin license for decades.

Governor Jim Doyle said the Real ID law was an expensive federal mandate that would lead to long lines at driver’s license stations. “What’s really going to happen here is, because our driver’s license people will essentially be checking on immigration status, we’re going to see lines,” he said. “A lot of the efforts we’ve made to try to make it easier for customers is going to change.” He said the state has no choice but to pay for complying with the law and that the DOT’s revised estimates justify raising license fees by $15 instead of $10. “This could be a monster that eats up state budgets all across the country,” he said.