SUNDAY EDITION | Kentucky seeks more time for controversial 'Real ID' driver's licenses
Without an extension, a Kentucky license or identification card might not be enough to enter a federal building starting next month.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky is not yet ready to comply with the federal “Real ID” law that eventually will require a special driver’s license or identification card to board domestic flights, and has asked the U.S. government for more time.
As its current extension prepares to expire October 10, the state is seeking a delay “to allow us to continue building on our recent progress,” John-Mark Hack, commissioner of Kentucky’s Department of Vehicle Regulation, wrote in an August 31 letter to the Department of Homeland Security.
Kentucky is operating under its third one-year waiver that allows residents to avoid the impact of Real ID. Without it, the Gene Snyder U.S. Courthouse & Customhouse and Romano Mazzoli Federal Building in Louisville would no longer accept a driver’s license as an acceptable form of ID.
And unless Kentucky upgrades its driver’s licenses by January 2018, the current ones won’t be valid to board domestic flights. A passport or other identification also would be needed.
Kentucky is one of 32 states and territories that have yet to meet the standards passed by Congress in the Real ID Act of 2005 – a response to recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission. In all, 24 states and Washington, D.C. fully meet the law’s requirement.
The law set stricter standards for issuing state driver’s licenses and ID cards that are used to access federal facilities and board airplanes.
Meant to deter terrorism, the law has become a target for civil libertarians, small government advocates and other critics who argue it collects mountains of personal data while doing little to bolster security. The Department of Homeland Security says the law doesn’t create a national ID card or a federal database.
Kentucky would have come into compliance with Real ID under a Republican-sponsored bill the General Assembly passed earlier this year. But Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican who had publicly supported the measure, ultimately vetoed it.
In his veto message, the governor acknowledged his prior support but cited “widespread opposition” from Kentuckians for a variety of reasons. He also noted the Real ID deadlines in place.
“We also owe the voters of Kentucky the ability to see what effect, if any, the next Presidential administration will have on this issue,” Bevin wrote.
The state still has met most of the requirements of Real ID and plans to move to a system that would issue all driver’s licenses at a single location, Hack said in an interview. Circuit court clerks in the state’s 120 counties now distribute licenses.
Hack said Kentucky has taken other steps, such as verifying social security numbers electronically and requiring proof that someone is living legally in the state.
“Your driver’s license right now – the physical license in and of itself – is a compliant document,” said Hack, a Bevin administration appointee. “Our biggest hurdle is our system of issuance and that’s what we have to overcome.”
He said legislation is needed to approve the shift in how driver’s licenses are issued.
In his letter, Hack also urged federal officials to remove some requirements for complying with Real ID, including making people bring proof of their social security number if their state can verify the information electronically with the Social Security Administration.
“It increases the risk of you losing that card, dropping it in a parking lot. And once you lose that original Social Security card, that creates a whole set of risks for identity theft,” he said.
Mixed opinions in Kentucky
Indiana already has met the requirements of Real ID. So have Tennessee, Ohio and West Virginia.
But Kentucky has wrestled with the law. Citing concerns that included possible identity theft, the state House voted 100-0 in 2009 to direct the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet not to comply with Real ID. A similar resolution failed in the Senate.
The measure that Bevin vetoed this year was an effort to put the state into compliance before the October extension runs out, said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Crestwood. He said lawmakers were led to believe that another waiver wouldn’t be approved.
Under Senate Bill 245, people would have kept applying for driver’s licenses in their home counties, but the documents would have been processed by the Transportation Cabinet. U.S. citizens would have had to provide their birth certificates and two other documents confirming their name and address – such as a bank statement or tax return.
Licenses would have been good for eight years, instead of four, and cost $48. It costs $20 to renew the current licenses.
Support for the bill didn’t follow party lines. On the Senate floor, Democratic Sen. Robin Webb called Real ID “federal overreach and somewhat of an extorted effort that may not exactly protect my security, but certainly will adversely affect my right to travel.”
Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, spoke in the Senate in favor of Harris’ bill, stressing that lawmakers weren’t requiring Kentuckians to get the new ID. They could opt out.
“Also, I understand from the governor that he is in favor of this as well,” he said.
The Senate approved the bill by a 26-12 vote on March 22. After passing the House 59-40 on April 14, it headed to Bevin’s desk.
The governor vetoed the bill on April 27. Four days earlier, the Republican Party of Kentucky passed a resolution at its annual convention that opposed “Federal mandatory ID.”
Harris said the governor called him the night before the veto. While Harris said he understood Bevin’s action, he said he believes some opposition came from groups “that were not educated on the need for it and were overreacting to ‘Big Government’ having a hand in your ID on a national level.”
Like Bevin, Harris agrees that the November elections could affect the future of Real ID. But Harris also said Kentucky ultimately may need to comply with the law.
“The hand that we’ve been dealt – at least so far – is we’re going to have to go to Real ID. So if we’re going to be forced with it, then we need to go down that road,” he said.
Real ID, real impact?
Others hope Kentucky remains defiant.
The ACLU of Kentucky has concerns that Real ID creates opportunities for identity theft and disproportionately affects “marginalized populations” that don’t have access to their birth certificates, executive director Michael Aldridge said.
Besides Kentucky, 27 other states and territories have waivers that expire in October. Minnesota, Washington, Missouri and American Samoa have failed to comply with the law and not gotten extensions.
“With that lack of support, I feel like as the deadline looms, we could repeal Real ID on the federal level,” Aldridge said.
U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., co-sponsored a bill earlier this year that would have repealed the driver’s license standards included in the 2005 bill.
“The REAL ID Act is an unfunded mandate that threatens personal privacy and violates state sovereignty,” Massie said in a statement. “The federal government should not force states to issue what amounts to a national ID card. Whether you support Real ID or not, it would be a waste of money for a state to implement Real ID if the next president chooses, as Obama did, not to implement it."
Federal officials, however, do appear ready to implement Real ID. In Illinois, for example, Scott Air Force Base plans to stop accepting Missouri driver’s licenses Sept. 15, requiring visitors to produce other forms of identification, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“While the Department of Homeland Security is likely to give Kentucky more time, the Governor needs to figure out a plan to meet the security requirements of Real ID,” U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said in a statement. “Whether you support Real ID or not, the state can’t continue to operate as if these requirements are going to go away.”
South of Louisville, officials at Fort Knox are preparing for the possibility that by next month the post may no longer accept Kentucky driver’s licenses from visitors.
Fort Knox spokesman Kyle Hodges said about 100 people per day, including visitors to the Patton Museum, would be affected if the post begins enforcing Real ID. Military identification cards and other IDs used by civilians who work at Fort Knox still would be accepted, he said.
“If they’re completely new to the installation, those folks will have to show two forms of ID,” Hodges said.
Acceptable ID includes passports, some university cards and vehicle registration documents, according to Fort Knox.
A spokesman for the U.S. General Services Administration, which operates the Snyder and Mazzoli federal buildings in Louisville, did not respond to questions about Real ID.
In Frankfort, vehicle commissioner Hack said he believes Kentucky meets the requirements for an extension. And although the state has taken steps to comply with Real ID, he said it’s likely that officials could be asking for another reprieve one year from now.
“It would be great if we weren’t, and we’re certainly going to work toward that goal,” he said. “But I’d say it’s probable.”
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Scott Air Force Base is in Missouri. It is in Illinois.
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