Feds Give Pennsylvania More Time to Comply With REAL ID Law

by | January 20, 2017

By Michael Walton

Pennsylvania's elected leaders bought a little more time as they work to bring state driver's license into compliance with national ID standards.

Federal agencies were set on Jan. 30 to reject driver's licenses as official forms of identification for Pennsylvanians trying to enter military bases, nuclear power plants and other federal facilities.

Instead they'll continue to accept them until June 6, after the Department of Homeland Security announced an extension on Wednesday. If the federal ID requirements remain unmet in January 2018, Pennsylvanians will be prohibited from using driver's licenses to board commercial aircraft.

Issues with Pennsylvania IDs go back to 2005, when Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which established minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission.

In 2012, Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a law that prohibited participating in the REAL ID program, citing among other concerns an estimated $140 million cost that some officials characterized as an unfunded mandate.

Homeland Security officials in October said Pennsylvania IDs failed to meet seven REAL ID requirements, including DHS-approved markings, prohibiting remote renewals and requiring in-person reissuance when personally identifiable information changes.

DHS originally gave the state until Jan. 30 to fix the issues or else federal agencies would begin rejecting Pennsylvania driver's licenses, though the restriction did not apply to people attempting to obtain federal benefits.

The extension granted Wednesday came after Gov. Tom Wolf and bipartisan lawmakers told DHS they're committed to resolving the ID compliance problems during the current legislative session. The letter states legislators have introduced "several bills" seeking to repeal the 2012 law that forbids REAL ID compliance.

The DHS in a letter recognized Pensnylvania's efforts to improve driver's license and ID card security, but warned that failure to move a legislative solution forward could result in the denial of future extension requests.

PennDOT has issued just shy of 9 million driver's licenses, plus 1.4 million non-driver's license ID cards.

State officials on Thursday did not have an estimate for the cost of coming into compliance.

"We will work with the General Assembly to do so in the most cost-effective and efficient manner but the important thing is we're working to resolve this to avoid inconvenience for Pennsylvanians," Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott said.

It will take PennDOT officials 18 to 24 months to achieve compliance once the agency is authorized to proceed, spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said.

(c)2017 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)