Real ID

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky's revamped driver's licenses should be available in all counties by the end of the year, the program's top official told a clearly frustrated group of state lawmakers Tuesday.

But Matt Henderson, Kentucky's vehicle regulation commissioner, said he's hopeful the credentials will be offered sooner. He did not share an internal schedule kept by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, which is overseeing the rollout.

State officials have launched a "pilot" program in Franklin and Woodford counties, where circuit court clerks have begun processing licenses that meet the new federal Real ID standards that take effect next year.

In those counties, there have been long lines and some hiccups with a new system that involves scanning multiple documents and different computers speaking with each other, Henderson told the General Assembly's budget review committee on transportation.

In some cases, he said, people waited for two hours in Franklin County, although those times have dropped to around 15 to 20 minutes.

"As the clerks get more efficient at the process, the times are driven down," he said.

Q&A | Kentucky's new driver's licenses

The process is a wholesale change from the way Kentucky's circuit court clerks have handled driver's licenses for years. Local clerks will no longer produce the credentials, but instead are taking applications and scanning documents.  

Henderson said the "most complicated, difficult part" has been with the software each county clerk will use. The state's vendor, Idemia Identity & Security USA, programs and creates that software and installs it in each county.

Meanwhile, he said, a Transportation Cabinet database pulls the information scanned at the county level and also connects with Social Security offices to verify data.

Testing the new configuration has led to delays. State officials previously expected the rollout to start in January, then March and then April.

Lawmakers said they're concerned about the toll of the new system on circuit clerks' offices, which take in lawsuits and handle other legal matters in addition to driver's licensing duties.

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said he has received calls from lawyers and court officials who say the new approach is interfering with court work. He suggested that the state establish regional locations where people can apply, rather than in each county.

"We need another way forward," he said.

Henderson said the Transportation Cabinet has commissioned a study to look at a so-called "regional" approach, but noted to reporters that it would require legislative approval. He also cautioned that in states with that model, such as California, residents sometimes take an entire day off work to renew their licenses.

As the new credentials become available, Kentuckians will choose between two driver's licenses.

One is called a "voluntary travel ID." It functions like a current Kentucky driver's license, letting its holder drive, buy alcohol and other age-limited purchases, board domestic flights and enter military posts.

The other type is known as a "standard driver's license," although it doesn't mirror the benefits of the current license. It will be good for driving, age-restricted purchases and entering federal buildings for basic services.

After October 2020, the Transportation Security Administration will accept only the "voluntary travel ID" for air travel within the U.S. Someone with a "standard" license would need a passport or other federal ID to board a domestic flight.

State officials say residents can choose the credential that best suits their lifestyle. Some lawmakers and critics contend the approach may cause confusion and result in people who have no way to board an airplane in a family emergency, for example.

To get the travel ID, Kentuckians will need to bring documents with them that prove their identity and social security number and two proofs of residency. For example, a certified birth certificate, a current year's tax return and a current salary statement and recent LG&E bill would be accepted.

Henderson said about 30 percent of the applicants in Woodford and Franklin counties have chosen the travel ID, a figure that is in line with the average in states that already have implemented Real ID.

The subcommittee's chairman, State Sen. Jimmy Higdon, said Kentuckians still need to understand the differences between the licenses, including that not everyone needs the ID that grants aircraft access.

"It's clear as mud when you start talking about Real ID," said Higdon, a Republican from Lebanon. He added: "It is very confusing."

Reach reporter Marcus Green at 502-585-0825, mgreen@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.

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Marcus Green joined WDRB News in 2013 after 12 years as a staff writer at the Louisville Courier-Journal. He reports on transportation, development and local and state government.