Louisiana lawmakers revisiting REAL ID compliance
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Lawmakers are considering whether they should put Louisiana driver's licenses in line with a federal identification law to keep state residents from running into possible domestic flying difficulties within two years.
A prohibition against compliance with the federal REAL ID law was enacted by state lawmakers in 2008. They rejected the added security requirements for a driver's license as too intrusive, joining many other states that raised similar privacy complaints.
Since then, the federal government has scrapped many of the initial plans that generated worries, like requiring electronic chips on driver's licenses that allowed for tracking.
Rep. Karen St. Germain, chair of the House Transportation Committee, thinks it's time to revisit the REAL ID ban in Louisiana. She's trying to broker a compromise that could offer people the option of getting a REAL ID-compliant driver's license or the ability to opt out.
Otherwise, Louisiana residents could need passports to fly domestically by 2016 — or face intense questioning from airport security — because their licenses or other state-issued ID don't comply with the federal standards.
"I hope there is some middle ground," said St. Germain, D-Pierre Part. "I don't think my neighbor — or anybody's neighbor — could afford having to buy a passport for a trip to Dallas."
The head of Louisiana State Police, Col. Mike Edmonson, said Louisiana's driver's license is acceptable for domestic aircraft travel through the end of 2015.
Louisiana is one of 12 states that hasn't met the requirements of the federal law passed in 2005, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly pushed back the REAL ID compliance deadline for air travel because of state objections.
Edmonson said out of more than three dozen requirements, Louisiana only needs to do two things to move in line with the federal law: scan into a database and store the birth certificates of anyone with a driver's license and remove the state law prohibiting compliance.
"Both those things aren't a threat to an individual," Edmonson said.
Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles and the sponsor of the state law that forbids compliance with REAL ID, said groups across the political spectrum still have concerns about privacy and identity theft. He also worried the federal government will tighten regulations once a state agrees to comply with REAL ID.
"It's been watered down, but the problem is once you join a program like that you can't get out," Geymann said.
He said he's willing to negotiate over legislation that would allow two paths for a driver's license in Louisiana: one that complies with the REAL ID requirements and one that doesn't. Several states have taken a similar approach.
"I want to make sure there would always be a valid driver's license available for people who do not want a REAL ID," Geymann said.
St. Germain and Geymann have filed bills for lawmakers to consider in the ongoing legislative session.