S.C.'s REAL ID dilemma
South Carolina already has told the federal government that it doesn't intend to buy into Homeland Security's REAL ID. It has a lot of good reasons, with the millions of dollars in cost at the top of the list. But now that the deadline for compliance is nearing, the House last week asked the governor to apply for an extension so it can, in effect, reassess. That's a lot easier said than done.
Unlike most states that have expressed opposition to the new federal ID, which would supplant state driver's licenses, South Carolina actually passed a law that prohibits its adoption, and it was signed by the governor. So, can he now ask for an extension on implementing a program that's prohibited in South Carolina, particularly since Homeland Security views such a request as an expression of an intention to comply? The governor and his staff are still scratching their heads over that one.
A governor's aide tells us that even states that make it clear they haven't decided to comply — and that's a majority — are being granted waivers. But a request by one of the five states that have passed a law similar to South Carolina's has been denied. It should be noted that while the REAL ID stops short of a mandatory national ID, there are penalties for non-compliance. The one that has created the most citizen concern involves airline travel.
The major worry is that after May 1, residents of states that aren't granted extensions will have to produce a passport in order to travel to destinations within this country. But the governor's aide tells us that, when pressed, federal officials concede there is a passport alternative known as "secondary security," which involves a more detailed check. In effect, he said, you wouldn't be able to go through the express lane.
Clearly, it is legally impossible for the governor to agree to comply with a program that state law says can't be implemented. But does the Department of Homeland Security really have the authority to view any request for a waiver as a legal intent to comply? Is the state now in the position of having to repeal its law banning the REAL ID in order to have some more breathing room to consider compliance?
Just in case you think compliance might be the easier out, keep in mind that the upfront changeover cost has been estimated at more than $15 million with millions more on an annual basis, not to mention the requirement that every citizen produce such documents as birth certificates and face long lines and even longer waits at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Privacy issues also have been raised about what amounts to a new national data bank.
If the majority of the states are being given a pass while this mess is sorted out for another 18 months then there must be a way to keep this state's citizens from being penalized.
It may well be that in the interim, the majority of the states will reach the same conclusion as South Carolina about the problems inherent in the REAL ID and force Congress to take a realistic look at the program.