SUNDAY EDITION | Real (confusing?) ID: Kentucky prepares to roll out new driver’s licenses

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It took Jarett Duker only about fifteen minutes at the Jefferson County Circuit Clerk’s Bowman Field office to renew his driver’s license last Tuesday.

There wasn’t much of a crowd, and Duker was able to get his new license with little difficulty.

“I actually made a joke that we’re going to start making fun of someone else, because they were pretty efficient,” he said.

But that longstanding renewal process ends next January, when Kentucky begins an overhaul of its personal identification system. In perhaps the biggest change, many drivers used to turning in their license, taking a photo and getting a new ID will instead will have to show multiple documents to prove who they are.

The changes will let Kentucky finally comply with a federal law passed after the 2001 terror attacks that requires states to make credentials more secure. Indiana and more than 30 other states and territories already have licenses that meet the “Real ID” standards.

Kentucky plans to start offering two forms of driver’s licenses next year: a standard license and a new type called a “voluntary travel ID” that also will serve as a driver's license. The two are similar, but with one key difference: Starting in 2020, residents will need the “voluntary travel ID” to board a domestic flight and to enter Fort Knox and other military posts. The standard ID will no longer be accepted by airport security.

Getting the new licenses will mean extra steps for Kentucky drivers who long have been used to a quick renewal every four years. For instance, citizens must bring at least three documents proving their identity, residency and social security number when they apply.

Drivers who want to stick with their standard driver's license will need to simply turn in their existing license and take a photo. People applying for the standard license for the first time will need to provide multiple identity documents, however.


Duker said that, while he keeps his valuable documents in a fireproof safe, others might not be able to so easily locate all that’s required for the new IDs.

“I can certainly see if I didn’t have my documents in order, if I was less organized, it could really turn into a pain quickly,” he said.

Earlier this month, officials kicked off an awareness campaign urging people to start getting their documents in order and find out when their current licenses expire. While there are no immediate deadlines, Kentucky Transportation Secretary Greg Thomas summed up the state’s approach as “starting early, communicating often.”  

The state transportation cabinet is overseeing the program and will become the state’s new license issuer. It expects to unveil the design of the new cards in September and explain this fall when individual counties will start offering the licenses.

“Our rollout is going to be in January of 2019,” Thomas said. “So the goal is to make sure Kentuckians are prepared between now and the end of the year to be ready.”

Drivers still will apply for licenses at their local circuit clerk offices. But they won’t leave the office with a newly minted license. Instead, they will receive a temporary credential that’s good until the new card arrives in the mail five to ten days later.

The state’s elected 120 circuit clerks are preparing for the changes. In Jefferson County, Circuit Clerk David Nicholson’s office has begun displaying signs about the new process at its six branches and training employees who interact with the public.

Nicholson said his office handles about 15,000 license renewals and other transactions each month. Once his employees start scanning multiple documents from driver’s license applicants next year, he expects the average wait time will climb by about five minutes.

“The sheer volume is going to be a challenge,” he said.

Kentucky is offering two different driver’s licenses under legislation passed in part to allay privacy and big government concerns raised by Tea Party members, civil libertarians and others. “We were able to put in a bill … that listened to those concerns, that gave people choices,” said Rep. Jim DuPlessis, an Elizabethtown Republican and co-sponsor.

Nicholson said he supported a single license and not the two-tiered system that Kentucky is about to introduce. The name “voluntary travel ID” – a credential that provides its holders the same benefits as a current driver’s license – could lead to confusion, he said.

Some people, Nicholson said, might think that because they don’t travel by plane the new standard driver’s license works best for them, only to need to fly for a family emergency or other unexpected event.

“Hopefully they’ll realize the need in a timeframe that will allow them to get the proper documentation then to fly,” he said.

Kentucky officials content they've taken steps to avoid that dilemma, giving local circuit clerks a method of invalidating and returning the existing license and allow it and a 30-day temporary document to board a flight while the new ID is being made.

Kentucky also is doubling the lifespan of the licenses, from four to eight years. The standard license that won’t provide aircraft access will cost $43, up from the $20 now charged for a four-year license. The travel IDs will cost $48 for eight years. (Through 2023, Kentucky will offer a half-priced, four-year version of both of the new types of driver’s licenses.)

Kentuckians who currently have a driver’s license won’t have to retake the driver’s test, and people who don't want the travel ID will be able to renew their current licenses without the additional documents after the changes take effect in January.

But everyone applying for either the new travel ID or a standard driver's license for the first time will have to present proofs of residence,  their social security number and a birth certificate or other proof of identity.

In particular, state officials are warning that people will need to prove any name changes through marriage or divorce and provide the supporting documents, such as divorce decrees.

“I don’t think individuals realize that we’ve got to be able to show from birth to issuance a consistent name,” Nicholson said.

Shelby Circuit Clerk Lowry Miller acknowledged that people might not realize they need to bring documents like a social security card with them when they apply for the new travel ID. If they can’t find it, a Form W-2 wage statement or current-year tax document showing a social security number also can be used.

“I think once everybody learns what they’ve got to have to do it, they’ll get out ahead of it and bring it in with them then,” Miller said.

The standard driver’s license still will let people access VA hospitals, social security offices, federal courthouses and federal buildings that offer essential services, according to the state.


In another big change, county offices no longer will produce licenses. State government has contracted with Massachusetts-based Idemia Identity & Security USA to create the IDs in a single facility and provide at least $450,000 in equipment, but neither the state nor the company will disclose the location.

Kentucky now makes licenses at more than 140 offices. But Kentucky officials said that system kept the state from abiding by the 2005 Real ID Act, which required the physical security of the locations where licenses were issued.

Passed by Congress as a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, the law aimed to boost the security of personal ID documents, such as the fake ones terrorists used to board planes during the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Kentucky, however, was slow to follow the law.

In 2009, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted 100-0 to direct the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet not to comply with Real ID.

A bill sponsored by Republicans and passed by the legislature would have moved the state into compliance in 2016, but Gov. Matt Bevin vetoed it after endorsing the legislation earlier in the session. That move came after Tea Party and other groups voiced their opposition to the bill.

The legislature finally took action in 2017. Under the bill approved by the General Assembly and signed by Bevin, Kentuckians can choose between the two IDs based on whether they’ll need to fly or enter federal facilities.

“These additional steps are really very minor—just taking some extra forms of identification this one time—but it’s going to ensure that our flights are safe,” DuPlessis said.

Although the state plans to roll out the new credentials early next year, citizens can continue to use their current licenses to board domestic flights and enter military bases throughout 2019 and into 2020, as long as Kentucky receives a waiver from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in October. Transportation cabinet officials expect that will happen.

But by fall 2020, current licenses won’t be enough to board a plane. Unless a person has one of the new travel IDs, a passport will be required. (Other federal IDs, such as a HSPD-12 PIV card or a U.S. Department of Defense ID, also could be used in lieu of a passport.)

Another wrinkle: Not all Kentuckians will be able to immediately obtain the 8-year travel ID even when it becomes necessary to board flights. That’s because the state will not issue new IDs to people before their current IDs – the ones issued under the old system – are within six months of expiration.

People whose licenses don’t expire until after early 2020 will have to incur more costs to be able to board planes without a passport.

They will have to go to their circuit clerk’s office and pay $15 for a travel ID that syncs with their existing license’s expiration date. Once they are within six months of the expiration of that four-year ID, they can then apply for a full eight-year ID.

In all, 32 states and territories have complied with the federal requirements and begun supplying new IDs. Indiana began offering them in 2010 and has issued more than 2.1 million credentials, according to the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

Besides a license that allows people to fly domestically, Indiana issues a “non-compliant credential” that won’t be accepted for air travel and other federal purposes, although it is accepted for driving or voting.

At Louisville International Airport, officials will place signs about the changes near Transportation Security Administration checkpoints and other areas, spokeswoman Natalie Ciresi Chaudoin said.

The airport also plans to rely heavily on the state transportation cabinet, which has launched the website to answer citizens’ questions.

“It definitely affects our customers,” Chaudoin said, “and we want to do what we can to make sure they’re informed and able to fly without any issues.” 

This story has been updated to clarify which documents are needed to renew a driver's license and receive a "standard" license starting in 2019. 

Reach reporter Marcus Green at 502-585-0825,, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2018 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 and local and state government.