By Senator John M. DiSanto
The General Assembly recently took action to maintain Pennsylvania citizens’ access to federal buildings and prevent the burden of needing a passport to fly within the U.S.
Lawmakers came together in a bipartisan fashion and approved compromise legislation to bring the Commonwealth into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. Passed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this federal law established increased security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards and prohibited federal agencies from accepting licenses and identification cards from states that did not meet these standards.
Concerned that that federal government sought to regulate what was previously under the domain of the states – driver’s licenses – the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in 2012 to prohibit the Commonwealth from participating in REAL ID.
In addition to the issue of states’ rights and the Tenth Amendment, concerns about Pennsylvanians’ privacy rights as part of a nationwide driver license database prompted passage of the REAL ID Nonparticipation Act of 2012.
The National Conference of State Legislators estimated that REAL ID implementation costs nationwide could be as much as $11 billion. It is estimated the initial start-up costs to fully implement REAL ID in Pennsylvania would be $141 million, with $39 million in additional, annual operational costs. The federal government provided PennDOT with just $5.4 million in grants to assist with REAL ID requirements—yet another unfunded mandate from Washington D.C.
In addition, the federal law complicates the process of obtaining and renewing a driver’s license. Pennsylvanians will be required to visit a PennDOT facility upon their first renewal after REAL ID compliance, and to produce a certified, raised-seal birth certificate and proof of social security number and principal residence. Also, REAL ID requires a person to apply in person for the re-issuance of their driver’s license if he or she has a material change in his or her personally identifiable information (not including a change in address).
While these and other concerns were valid, not meeting the federal requirements comes at a cost to citizens. By June 6 of this year, Pennsylvanians would no longer have been able to gain access to secure federal buildings using their driver’s license. And, by January 2018, Pennsylvanians would need a passport to fly on commercial airlines within the U.S. A recent study determined Pennsylvanians would need to spend nearly $1 billion on passports if the state did not comply with REAL ID.
The General Assembly needed to prevent these unacceptable burdens from being placed on our citizens. That meant complying with the federal law while maintaining options for residents.
Pennsylvania had already taken 33 of the required 38 steps to enhance ID security as required by the REAL ID Act, such as using digital photos, issuance and expiration dates and a unique identification number on driver’s licenses. Remaining mandates to be met include having a specific federally approved symbol that is designed to make tampering and forgery more difficult, and requiring a certified birth certificate to issue a driver’s license.
Meeting the last remaining federal requirements, while protecting Pennsylvania citizens and taxpayers, was the goal of a lengthy legislative process that featured compromise in the Senate and House of Representatives as well as input from PennDOT. The result was Senate Bill 133.
The legislation brings Pennsylvania into compliance with REAL ID, with safeguards for citizens.
Senate Bill 133 allows Pennsylvania residents to choose between getting a REAL ID-compliant identification card or a non-compliant card. Holders of standard-issued driver licenses will not be asked to subsidize or cover the cost to issue REAL IDs. Instead, the cost of compliance will be borne by those opting for the federally approved ID. PennDOT will also be required to report annually to the General Assembly regarding the cost to the state of REAL ID compliance.
Pennsylvania’s approach to REAL ID prohibits state government from compelling any individual to apply for a REAL ID, and it does not allow Pennsylvania to exclusively mandate a REAL ID for any reason. These are important protections to preserve individual choice for our citizens.
Without this legislation, Pennsylvania would have soon become one of only five states to remain noncompliant with REAL ID and without an extension.
Now that Governor Wolf has signed Senate Bill 133 into law, PennDOT will begin what is expected to be an 18 to 24 month process to fully implement REAL ID. Given Pennsylvania’s new law to enact REAL ID, it is expected the Department of Homeland Security will provide further extensions that will allow Pennsylvanians, with their Pennsylvania driver’s license or photo ID card, to continue flying commercially and visiting federal facilities in the interim.
Our Commonwealth should never blindly comply with every regulation handed down by the federal government, especially those that encroach on what is rightfully a state matter, such as driver licensing. By slowing down the process and creating alternatives, Pennsylvania is implementing REAL ID on its terms, not Washington’s.
Senator John DiSanto represents most of Dauphin and all of Perry County. He was first elected in 2016.