State may adopt federal license

By Kathleen Foody

The Real ID Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in May 2005, was intended to protect Americans and eliminate vulnerabilities in national security.

The Act requires all states to adopt standards set by the federal government when issuing drivers licenses or state IDs by May 11, 2008.

But critics at the national and state levels have said it will harm states if the Department of Homeland Security does not release specific regulations soon.

The Act was approved by the Congress and President Bush as a part of the larger Emergency Supplemental Appropriation for Defense, the Global War on Terror and Tsunami Relief.

If states do not comply, residents without the nationally approved ID will not be permitted to board commercial airplanes or enter federal facilities and nuclear power plants.

The law also requires states to link their record systems to national databases in an attempt to prevent terrorists or illegal immigrants from obtaining fake identification.

Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., from the 15th District, which includes Champaign and Urbana, voted for the Real ID Act in 2005.

But Bill Wyatt, spokesperson for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the financial burden placed on states by the law is too high.

Wyatt said a survey conducted by the organization found that the necessary changes will cost states $11 billion over five years.

Additionally, Wyatt said states may not be able to comply with the law by the 2008 deadline if the Department of Homeland Security does not give them specific guidelines soon.

“To have all 240 million drivers’ licenses compliant by 2008 in unrealistic,” he said.

Fourteen states have introduced resolutions opposing the Act and Maine’s legislature became the first to approve a resolution refusing to comply in January.

The resolution also urged the Congress to repeal the Act.

Wyatt said his organization has come to the conclusion that if Congress does not recognize the need for more federal funding, the law should be repealed.

Illinois is one of 10 states whose legislatures have introduced resolutions urging compliance with the Real ID Act.

Should the state legislature agree to comply with the law, Illinois drivers will have to have their identification documents reverified, said Randy Nehrt, spokesman for the Illinois Secretary of State’s office.

Secretary Jesse White formed an internal group that is working to study the best ways to ensure implementation of the act goes well, Nehrt said.

But state costs and specific policies cannot be determined without more specific information from the federal government, he added.

Wyatt said another troubling factor is that the act allows the federal government to gain control over what is primarily a traffic safety function.

“We already have a national ID – a U.S. passport,” he said. “If this is so important to security, why not look at that process?”