The federal government appears to be getting real about its Real ID requirements, and that may cause problems for some Missourians.
Congress passed the Real ID Act in 2005 as a homeland security measure. Signed by President George W. Bush, it sets forth more stringent requirements for proof of legal U.S. residency if state driver’s licensees are to be valid for federal purposes.
Many states balked, saying the government wouldn’t fully compensate states for the costs of complying with the law. Lawmakers and some governors also objected to a provision that requires states to create and share databases containing the information people share on their drivers license applications.
States were supposed to implement the law by the end of 2009, but few did.
Missouri not only didn’t comply, its General Assembly in 2009 passed a statute forbidding state officials to take any steps in accordance with the federal law.
The Associated Press reported last week that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified state officials in a letter that Missouri’s long-continued exemption from Real ID requirements will end Jan. 10.
That means Missourians will not be able to use their state drivers licenses to enter federal facilities requiring an ID, such as military bases, research labs and the White House.
Eventually, the ban could extend to airport security, but federal officials have been reluctant to announce a step that drastic, preferring instead to urge states to comply.
Many of the identification requirements of the Real ID Act make sense and are already required or in the works by states. Kansas is considered compliant with the law.
But privacy advocates have objected to requirements for bar codes and security devices to prevent tampering or counterfeiting, as well as requirements that drivers license applicants produce birth certificates, Social Security numbers and other documents proving lawful presence in the U.S. The database requirements also raised red flags.
Those concerns are legitimate, although we must note that some of the GOP lawmakers in Missouri who most fiercely oppose the Real ID Act are also determined to require photo identification and proof of citizenship as a requirement for voting.
At this point, the situation amounts to a standoff between noncompliant states and the federal government. Many critics think that homeland security officials will back down on requiring Real ID drivers licenses to enter federal facilities. And if it doesn’t, people who need access to those places can use alternate forms of ID, such as passports.
The more serious concern is that the federal government will stop accepting Missouri drivers licenses as a valid form of identification to board a plane. That would impose a serious burden on citizens.
The best prescription at this point is for responsible state leaders to work with the federal government in search of an accommodation. That may require amending the unwise 2009 statute making the federal Real ID law off limits to state bureaucrats. A ban like that only serves to prevent solutions.