Government & Politics

As Missouri gets ready to switch to REAL ID, here’s what travelers need to know

An extension from the federal government giving Missouri more time to comply with the REAL ID law is set to expire this fall.

Unless the state gets another one, residents will have to haul their passport with them to board even domestic flights.

The Missouri Department of Revenue is working to bring the state into compliance with the 2005 federal REAL ID law, which sets standards for state-issued driver's licenses. The state received an extension last year after the Missouri General Assembly lifted the ban keeping the state from complying, but that runs out Oct. 10.

Revenue spokeswoman Anne Marie Moy said in an email that the state still expects to meet the compliance standards in March 2019 and will ask for another extension to bridge the gap.

"(The department) has already developed business and system requirements, and is currently developing computer system-related changes to create the optional REAL ID program," Moy said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security would have to grant the extension and has yet to send criteria for extensions to the 19 states that have them. The remaining 31 states, including Kansas, and the District of Columbia are compliant.

Congress passed the REAL ID law in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to increase security and tamp down fraud. It imposes standards for issuing driver's licenses and requires that states retain copies of drivers' documents, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards.

To be in compliance, the department said, states must provide plans that demonstrate clear milestones for achieving the REAL ID requirements by Oct. 1, 2020. That's when the law will be enforced for states that are in compliance and residents will have to have REAL ID-compliant identification.

States that aren't in compliance can be subject to enforcement sooner if they don't get an extension, meaning their residents can't enter federal facilities or board even domestic commercial flights using a state-issued driver's license.

Those without REAL ID-compliant identification can show other forms, like a military ID, passport or green card to fly. Non-compliant driver's licenses can still be used to drive.

Missourians usually renew driver's licenses on a three-or six-year cycle, but those who need to fly or access federal buildings will have to head to the DMV during an 18-month period, between March 2019 and October 2020, if Missouri gets the exemption.

Moy said in states that have already implemented REAL ID, many drivers don't immediately rush to get a REAL ID. She said only those who don't have a passport and plan to fly domestically or visit a federal facility, nuclear plant or military base will need to get a REAL ID right away.

"Many people who do not need the access described above can wait until their normal renewal cycle to obtain a REAL ID-compliant license, if they desire to obtain one," Moy said.

Less than half — about 41 percent — of Americans held valid passports last year, according to the U.S. Department of State's website.

Kansas has been issuing REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses since August 2017, giving residents a little over three years to get a REAL ID. Kansans normally renew every six years.

Kansas Department of Revenue spokeswoman Rachel Whitten said the department gave people three years to avoid any rush on DMV locations. She said since the state started issuing REAL ID-compliant licenses, about half of drivers who come in for a license get a REAL ID.

Missouri was slow to adopt REAL ID because of concerns over privacy. One chief objection among lawmakers was the requirement in the REAL ID law that the state scan and store in a database drivers' documents. According to DHS, those databases will be managed on a state level, not combined into a national database.

With the threat of cybersecurity breaches, Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said Thursday that it was "unbelievable that we think this is a solution."

Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Washington, said the law takes away "rights and freedoms" Americans already have.

"Federal REAL ID law was passed by Congress, but if you disagree with the law, once it goes into effect, you won't be allowed to fly to D.C., and you won't be allowed to go into the office of your congressman to complain about the law," Curtman said.

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said he advocated for an agreement lawmakers reached with "some of the right-wingers" that lets Missourians opt out of REAL ID. Those people won't be forced to get a REAL ID, but they won't be able to fly or enter federal facilities without either a REAL ID or other identification like a passport.

"The people with aluminum hats felt that the government would come up with this database that then they would spy on us," Engler said. "And they’re so concerned with the government even though the government knows about everything they could know about you."

One of the frequently asked questions on the Department of Homeland Security’s website is whether the department is "trying to build a national database with all of our information."

The department says, "No. REAL ID is a national set of standards, not a national identification card. REAL ID does not create a federal database of driver license information."