Try new option to avert a REAL ID showdown
As the deadline nears and the pressure mounts, Gov. Mark Sanford won't be rushed in his potentially far-reaching decision on whether to ask for an extension in implementing the federal REAL ID. It's good that he's been taking his time. There now may well be a solution that stops far short of putting the governor in the position of agreeing to do something that state law prohibits.
The General Assembly passed a law last year that forbids this state from complying with the REAL ID program, which would require that all driver's licenses and identification cards be reprocessed by the Department of Motor Vehicles to comply with the new federal standards. Privacy issues, millions of dollars in costs to the states and very long waits at the DMV are among the concerns expressed by a majority of the states, with most now being granted extensions from the April 11 deadline. Less than a handful, however, have laws such as South Carolina's that actually prohibit the states from complying.
Since taking their strong stand last year, South Carolina legislators have gotten nervous over scare stories of a Department of Homeland Security crackdown on citizens of those states that have not complied or asked for an extension of the REAL ID deadline. Resolutions were passed in the House and Senate asking the governor to make the extension request, which only he is authorized to do. The most worrying threat has been to airline travel. At one point, there was widespread belief that airline passengers from states that aren't implementing the REAL ID would be required to have a passport. The latest stories now say that absent a passport, an extra security check would be required.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell told our reporter he's been advised by airport officials that the secondary security check could add up to an hour of waiting time at airports. Gov. Sanford's spokesman Joel Sawyer tells us, however, that he's been informed it's more a matter of minutes than hours. While Speaker Harrell contends that the extension request doesn't commit the state to compliance, the governor's office disagrees. Spokesman Sawyer says they have been told by Homeland Security that the request absolutely is viewed as a form of compliance.
Thanks to the state of Montana, which also has a law banning REAL ID compliance, a new option opened for the governor last week and now is under consideration. According to Mr. Sawyer, Montana officials sent a letter to Homeland Security saying that while they won't comply, they have done a number of things to make their driver's licenses more secure, and Montana was granted an extension without asking for one.
A report on National Public Radio described the Homeland Security decision as "creative" and noted that New Hampshire and Maine, which also have laws similar to South Carolina's, sent similar letters this week. According to an Associated Press report Thursday, New Hampshire's latest letter has resulted in an extension.
While the NPR report quoted the Montana governor as saying Homeland Security "blinked," a Homeland Security official was quoted as saying the department "got what we were most interested in, which is a binding assurance from the state that they were going to improve the security of their driver's license."
Since South Carolina already has improved the security of its driver's licenses, there's now precedent for Homeland Security to waive compliance until Jan. 1, 2010, rather than putting the governor in the untenable position of asking for something state law doesn't allow.