State officials and some in Congress remain skeptical about new federal rules for driver’s licenses, even after major changes designed to cut the cost of those rules and provide more flexibility.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Jan. 11 released final rules for the Real ID Act of 2005, giving states nearly five extra years to verify the identity of an estimated 245 million drivers and reissue secure licenses to them.
Initial estimates were that Real ID would cost states more than $11 billion. “These regulations offer states some flexibility that may tame those costs,” said William T. Pound, of the bi-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures. But, he added, Congress has only provided states $90 million and DHS has not asked for more.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and co-sponsor of a bill to repeal Real ID, blasted the finalized rules as too little too late.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters that the revised rules would cost states $3.9 billion over 10 years and said the average price of each new license would rise just $8 — what he called a bargain for the added protection.
The biggest reduction in costs will come from stretching out the process: Instead of requiring that states reissue all of their licenses by between this year and 2013, those over 50 years old can delay getting a Real ID until 2017.
DHS had given states until May to request a delay to begin issuing IDs by the end of 2009. California, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland and Ohio have already been approved for that extension.
By May 2011, all states must verify the identity and legal residence of all license holders under 50 years old using five electronic databases. Those over 50 years old at that time will not be required to get a Real ID until Dec. 1, 2017.
David Quam, lobbyist for the National Governors Association, questions whether the government can find a way for all 50 states to electronically verify data varying from birth records to visa status. Only one of the five databases required by the law is now available to all states.
One area where DHS will not be flexible is enforcement: Beginning in May, non-compliant licenses cannot be used to board a commercial flight or enter a federal building. Chertoff said that will directly affect citizens in six states that have passed laws rejecting Real ID. Residents in those states will instead have to use military or other federal identification or passports at the airports.
Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Washington have passed laws refusing to comply with the act over the concerns of its cost, infringement on state practice and threats to personal privacy. Georgia has authorized its governor to ignore the law if he deems it too expensive and the Idaho Legislature has rejected any funding for Real ID.
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