The federal government has again postponed until 2013 the deadline for all states to be in compliance with the REAL ID program, which sets minimum national standards for drivers licenses and identification cards.
The move has been cheered by states that see REAL ID as a costly mandate from the federal government. However, key House Republicans criticized the extension as not in the best interests of national security.
The REAL ID law, a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, was passed by Congress in 2005 and supported by President George W. Bush as a nationwide identification system aimed at stopping terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants. The 9/11 terrorists had dozens of driver’s licenses that they used to rent cars and board airplanes.
The measure requires states to enhance their identification system for driving licenses and seeks to create a nationwide database of data supplied by the departments of motor vehicles in 50 states. REAL ID-compliant driver licenses have special anti-forgery features and can only be issued after verification of birth certificates, Social Security numbers and immigration status.
Under the REAL ID law, state-issued licenses and identification cards that do not meet federal standards will not be accepted for federal purposes such as boarding commercial aircraft, gaining access to federal facilities or entering nuclear power plants.
The law had an original deadline for states of May 11, 2008 but federal officials extended it to May 11 of this year. Now Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has again extended the states’ deadline by 21 months to Jan. 15, 2013.
More than a dozen states have passed laws rejecting the REAL ID, mainly out of concern over the costs to states of implementing the upgraded licensing systems, despite some federal financial assistance. Budget concerns have only been heightened by the recession.
Some opponents also object to REAL ID out of privacy concerns.
As of December, 2009, as many as 36 states were in no position to comply with the law, according to the National Governors Association.
DHS said that since then states have been slowed in their implementation not only by diminished state budgets.
Despite the opposition of many states to REAL ID, House Republicans wrote to Napolitano opposing the delay.
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