State trying to get compliant with REAL ID Act

Non-compliance could cause problems for Kentuckians boarding planes

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Aug. 6, 2014) — When Kentucky driver’s licenses showed up in the hands of non-U.S. pilots several years ago, federal officials came to Frankfort asking questions.

“The FBI … had found Kentucky driver’s licenses in several other countries. As a matter of fact, we were told that one of the people who applied for one of the aviation schools in the United States had a Kentucky driver’s license,” said Interim Joint Committee on Transportation Co-Chair Rep. Hubert Collins (D-Wittensville).

A REAL ID has a star in the right corner.
A REAL ID has a star in the right corner.

Kentucky changed its licensing procedures so that “now, we don’t issue very many (of those) driver’s licenses” because applicants have to be a U.S. citizen or have a valid visa to get a license, said Collins. Now, it appears Kentucky will have to change its licensing procedures again.

The state is among 46 states, U.S. territories, and Washington DC that are all deemed compliant with or have received an extension to comply under the 2005 REAL ID Act for safety in federally regulated facilities and commercial aircraft. Kentucky is one of the states with an extension, good until October 2015, state officials say.

If the state is not compliant under REAL ID by Jan. 1, 2016 however, it is possible that Kentuckians will not be able to use their Kentucky driver’s license to board a commercial flight or enter restricted federal space. A U.S. passport, military ID, or some other acceptable form of identification would be required.

Twenty five other states or territories are in the same position—all in an extension phase for compliance.

Before Kentucky can be found compliant under REAL ID it will have to fall in line with the 40 or so regulations, according to the National Conference of State Legislators Washington Office Director Molly Ramsdell who spoke to the committee. Those regulations include verifying the “validity” of documents when applying for a license, securing the physical location where licenses are issued (they are now issued at circuit clerks’ offices), meeting federal card design standards, and verifying an applicant’s lawful presence in the U.S, she said.

“The place where your citizens are going to see it most is really (the phase that applies) to commercial aircraft,” said Ramsdell.

However, at this point, Ramsdell told the committee that the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is still trying to figure out how to implement the rule. Some exceptions have already been carved out, for example, including exemptions in cases of lifesaving activities, law enforcement and “constitutionally protected” activity, Ramsdell said.

Rep. Jim DeCesare (R-Bowling Green) asked Ramsdell if immigrants who are not in the U.S. legally will have access to federally restricted areas if the state in which they live is deemed compliant, and they have a driver’s license from that state.

“Let’s say that an illegal immigrant has a compliant issued driver’s license. They would be able to use that to get on a commercial airplane whereas if someone from Kentucky– who is a native and a legal citizen of the United States –didn’t have a compliant ID, they would not be allowed?” DeCesare asked.

Ramsdell said under the law, California would only be able to issue REAL ID compliant licenses to individuals who are “lawfully present” in the country to be compliant.

The cost to comply with the REAL ID federal mandate is high: Ramsdell said cost for U.S. states and territories to reach compliance is estimated to be around $3.9 billion in 2006 dollars. She said Congress has only appropriated around $263 million to help states meet its charge to date.

Kentucky Department of Vehicle Regulation Commissioner Rodney Kuhl told the committee following Ramsdell’s presentation that Kentucky is going to have to decide whether or not it will implement REAL ID. That drew a comment from Collins.

“If there are any changes we need to make,” said Collins, “…we need to do it during the legislative session.” The next regular session is scheduled to begin on Jan. 6, 2015.

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