A Senate panel approved legislation today that would establish federal security standards for driver's licenses and identification cards, including a $150 million grant program to help states digitize birth records.
The bill creating the PASS ID program, approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee by voice vote, will require states to issue driver's licenses that are compliant with federal standards by 2016. States will have to show they are moving toward compliance by 2011.
The bill is intended to replace the 2005 REAL ID law, which federal and state officials roundly criticized as unworkable. It is expected to be brought to the Senate floor soon, as it needs to be enacted by December in order to repeal looming deadlines under REAL ID.
Details of the bill were negotiated in recent days by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman and ranking member Susan Collins, along with Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio.
The most contentious issue dealt with whether the Transportation Security Administration could prevent a person from boarding an airplane if she or he failed to present a license or card that met PASS ID standards. Collins in particular wanted to ensure that TSA screeners would have the ability to do so based on an informed judgment.
In the end, the senators agreed to carefully worded language that would give TSA the discretion to prevent a person from boarding for failure to show a PASS ID. That decision could not be legally contested.
"I am trying to preserve the current situation where the TSA has the authority to deny access to airplanes for good reason," Collins said.
Senators agreed on language from Lieberman that would require states to verify the authenticity of birth records beginning six years after PASS ID regulations are issued by the department. The requirement would be conditioned on the department certifying that doing so is technically feasible and can be done in a way that protects privacy.
To help states meet the requirement, the bill authorizes the new, three-year $150 million grant program. Senators agreed on an amendment from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., requiring the department to produce an annual report on the privacy implications of PASS ID.