A standoff between Pennsylvania and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is about to make life inconvenient for virtually all people in the state.
Beginning Jan. 30, Pennsylvania-issued driver's licenses will no longer be considered a legal form of identification for access to federal facilities such as the Carlisle Barracks and U.S. Army War College, federal offices and U.S. courts in Harrisburg, the Letterkenny Army Depot near Chambersburg, the Naval Support Activity facility in Hampden Township, and nuclear power plants like Three Mile Island.
Each federal agency determines which secure identification it will accept.
Moreover, as of Jan. 30, 2018, a Pennsylvania driver's license will no longer be acceptable to board a domestic commercial airline flight unless Pennsylvania complies with a DHS program known as Real ID. It is a result of recommendations by the 9/11 Commission after the Sept. 11 attacks.
According to PennDOT's website, the Real ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, "requires changes to state standards, procedures and requirements for the issuance of driver's licenses and identification cards, if they are to be accepted as identity documents by the federal government."
The Real ID Act does not apply for entering federal facilities that do not require a person to present identification, voting or registering to vote, applying for or receiving federal benefits, being licensed by a state to drive, accessing health or life-preserving services (including hospitals and health clinics), law enforcement, constitutionally protected activities (including a defendant’s access to court proceedings) or participating in law enforcement proceedings or investigations.
Pennsylvania does not comply with the Real ID program, and the state's 2012 Act 38, signed by then Gov. Tom Corbett, specifically prohibits the governor from bringing the state into compliance with DHS Real ID act.
Act 38 was sponsored by state Sen. Mike Folmer, R-48, a Lebanon County Republican. Folmer told the Reading Eagle last fall that he favored the ban largely because he thinks putting the personal information of every driver in the country into one database would be too risky. He also cited the cost to comply and the fact that Pennsylvania's licensing system is already secure.
The American Civil Liberties Union has also protested Real IDs.
The Homeland Security website says Real ID "does not create a federal database of driver's license information. Each jurisdiction continues to issue its own unique license, maintains its own records, and controls who gets access to those records and under what circumstances."
"The Legislature sees this as an unfunded mandate," Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokesman Richard Kirkpatrick said. Kirkpatrick did not speculate on the cost of re-issuing the nearly 9 million driver licenses needed to comply with the Real ID act. Several legislative staff sources in both parties, however, privately estimated the cost at nearly $100 million.
"In large measure, we are out of compliance for limited technical reasons," said PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards, "and because existing state law bars us from fully complying."
Under the new federal requirements, Pennsylvania would be required to obtain from people applying for a driver's license: full legal name, date of birth, address, gender, driver's license or ID card number, digital photo, signature, security features to prevent counterfeiting or duplication and machine-readable technology.
Richards said that if the Legislature repealed the compliance ban, PennDOT would need time beyond the compliance deadlines to bring Pennsylvania driver licenses up to federal standards.
Compliance is not a legislative priority.
One of the top priorities for the new session of the Pennsylvania's General Assembly, which opened Jan. 3, will be state and public school employee pension reform. Failure to address that problem could cost the state $70 billion. Plus there is a general-fund debt looming.
Fixing both issues with minimal or no tax impact is priority one, according to Republican and Democratic legislative staffers. They also expressed hope the DHS would grant an extension.
Kirkpatrick said DHS notified Pennsylvania on Oct. 11 that no extension to the Real ID requirement would be granted without further developments. That has been interpreted by key legislative staffers as a repeal of the ban on compliance.
Secondary forms of ID
Meanwhile the U.S. Army War College provided information this month on identity documentation that will be needed to access the Carlisle Barracks after Jan. 30. Topping the list is a U.S. passport. Others include a DHS Trusted Traveler Card, military ID for both active and retired, as well as others.
If Pennsylvania remains out of compliance as of Jan. 30, 2018, only a U.S. passport or other federally approved forms of identification will be acceptable to board domestic airline flights. The acceptable forms of ID include a passport, military ID or permanent resident card. U.S. passports costs $110 for the books and $30 for the passport cards for first-time recipients.
Pennsylvania, however, is not the only state out of compliance with the DHS' Real ID requirements. Others are Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Washington, Minnesota and Missouri.
The Department of Homeland Security had been granting states not in compliance a series of extensions. In a letter dated Oct. 11, the department informed PennDOT that no further extensions will be granted unless there are new developments or information provided on why standards remain unmet and the reasons for continued noncompliance.
DHS did not respond to two inquiries on a possible extension for compliance, or a possible waiver for Pennsylvania and the other non-compliant states.