The nation's governors expect this spring to unveil a package of changes they want made to a costly and controversial law requiring their states to issue new driver's licenses -- proposals that could include seeking legislative help from Congress.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, said Monday that her office is participating in a working group established by the National Governors Association to review the so-called Real ID law, which Congress passed in 2005 while under Republican control.
"What they're looking at is whether statutory changes need to be made to Real ID," Napolitano said after a speech to Homeland Security employees marking the sixth anniversary of the department's creation.
"They are looking at whether some version of an enhanced driver's license that perhaps creates options for states would be feasible. They're looking at what the fiscal impact would be particularly given that states have no money right now," she added.
"I would expect that over the course of the spring we'll be rolling something out," she said.
Governors across the country say Real ID is riddled with privacy and technical problems and could cost $11 billion to implement over five years. Almost two dozen states have already passed legislation rejecting or resisting the law, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU has blasted the driver's license program, which it said was developed with little advice from governors, as invasive, expensive and ultimately ineffective as a means of preventing terrorism.
Napolitano herself signed an Arizona law last summer prohibiting Real ID from being implemented.
The working group is discussing possible legislative and regulatory changes to the law, with an eye toward unveiling its proposals well in advance of a looming deadline at the end of this year, acknowledged David Quam, NGA's director of federal relations.
By Dec. 31, states must verify that they are in compliance with 18 Real ID benchmarks, which include upgrading the security of their license systems, having the ability to do background checks on applicants to ensure illegal immigrants cannot obtain Real ID licenses, and deciding on security features for their new licenses.
"It's possible that the solutions at the end of the day may require some legislative help," Quam said. "That clock is ticking and we're coming up on another deadline."
"We're going to push for [decisions] sooner rather than later because at the end of the day states need some certainty," he added.
States have until May 2011 to begin issuing Real ID licenses. Beginning Dec. 1, 2014, individuals who are 50 years old or younger must have a Real ID license to do anything under federal law that requires identification, such as boarding an airplane or entering a federal building.
All individuals must have a Real ID license by Dec. 1, 2017.
Some lawmakers have proposed legislation in the past to repeal Real ID altogether.
Napolitano said consideration is being given toward allowing all states to issue an "enhanced" driver's license to comply with the law. The Homeland Security Department now allows border states to issue such licenses, which have advanced security features, to residents for traveling to and from Canada.
Quam said the idea of using enhanced driver's licenses appears to be a good one, but added that it, too, raises questions for the states, given the existing legal directive from Congress.
"The [enhanced driver's license] is a different beast. It is really meant to help facilitate border crossing," he said. "I don't believe any state has mandated that people use an EDL. Real ID is mandatory."