Resistance in the Missouri Senate on Wednesday night stalled a proposal to put the state in compliance with the federal Real ID law.
The Missouri House is expected to pass legislation Thursday allowing those wishing to get a Real ID compliant driver’s license to do so, while those who don’t want one can opt out.
But opposition to a similar bill in the Senate on Wednesday caused it to be set aside after three hours of debate without taking a vote, and has stoked concerns among proponents that the proposal may be in jeopardy.
“I know the Senate in their wisdom will probably not act on this,” state Rep. Kevin Engler, a Farmington Republican, told his House colleagues this week. “You think you’re getting calls about this now, wait until January.”
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Next January, as Engler noted, the federal government says Missourians will no longer be able to use their driver’s license to board a commercial airplane or set foot in certain federal buildings or military bases. Instead, they’d have to have a passport.
To avoid that scenario, lawmakers will either have to change state law — which currently prohibits Missouri from complying with Real ID — or the federal government would have to reverse course.
“All I want is to allow individuals the choice on whether they participate in this federal program or not,” said Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican. “I don’t want to dictate it to everyone or force every Missourian to go get a new license. But at the same time, I understand not everyone shares the concerns of those opposed to Real ID Act.”
To opponents, the law is an example of federal overreach and an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.
“By saying you cannot get on an airplane unless you give up your papers, the federal government is violating the Fourth Amendment,” said Sen. Will Kraus, a Lee’s Summit Republican. “By opposing this, we’re protecting everyone’s liberty by pushing back against government overreach.”
Congress passed the Real ID law in 2005 as part of the security response to the 9/11 attacks. It requires states to meet minimum requirements for driver’s licenses and other documents.
Among the requirements that Missouri is not currently meeting: Documents used to obtain a driver’s license, such as a birth certificate or Social Security card, must be scanned and stored in a database. Each state must agree to share its database of licensed drivers with other states.
Kansas driver’s licenses are already in compliance. Missouri is one of five states that currently aren’t compliant.
Privacy concerns inspired Missouri lawmakers to pass a law in 2009 prohibiting the state from complying with the Real ID Act. Four years later, when it was discovered the Missouri Department of Revenue was scanning and storing documents, lawmakers passed another bill specifically outlawing the practice.
So in order to get in compliance with the Real ID Act, state law has to be changed.
But opponents say this would create second-class citizens who can no longer use their state-issued license to travel by commercial plane or go into federal buildings.
“You will lose some of your constitutionally protected freedoms, such as interstate travel by any means,” said state Rep. Paul Curtman, a Franklin County Republican. “We are being required to implement this or we lose constitutional protections.”
During debate in the House, Republican Rep. Robert Ross of Phelps County offered an amendment to the bill that would require any elected official who voted in favor of complying with the Real ID law to declare on any election documents: “I WOULD RATHER KNEEL TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT THAN STAND STRONG PROTECTING MY CONSTITUENTS’ RIGHT TO PRIVACY.”
“This is an absolutely serious amendment,” Ross said. “This amendment is about being honest. Honest with ourselves and honest with our constituents.”
The amendment was defeated 119-21.
“I’m not trying to defend the Real ID law,” said state Rep. Kevin Corlew, a Kansas City Republican. “I’m trying to give citizens the option of getting a license that complies.”
Silvey asked repeatedly during Wednesday’s debate why opponents should care if someone else chooses to participate and have their documents stored in a database.
“I’ve yet to go into a Starbucks in Clay County,” he said, “and have someone walk up to me and say ‘I need you to keep my birth certificate out of a database.’ ”
Sen. Bob Dixon, a Springfield Republican, noted that when people get a passport, they turn over even more personal documents to the federal government that what are required to get a Real ID compliant license.
But Kraus insisted that the state must take a stand.
“This bill is the start of the snowball,” he said, “that will take us to a point where everyone’s information is going to be in a database.”
Sen. Bill Eigel, a St. Charles County Republican, said the consequences for failure to comply with Real ID are unlikely to actually come to pass. The federal government, he said, is just “rattling sabers.”
“I don’t believe they’re willing to prevent people from boarding airplanes,” he said.
The bill was set aside Wednesday, but proponents remain hopeful a resolution can be reached before Missourians are turned away at the airport.
“It’s a little scary,” said state Sen. Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican, “to think we might try to call the federal government’s bluff.”