Key senators have reached a deal to advance legislation today that would set federal security standards for state driver's licenses and identification cards, satisfying a key recommendation of the national commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is expected to approve the PASS ID bill today, which essentially would replace the 2005 REAL ID law that federal and state officials roundly criticized as unworkable.
On Tuesday, senior members of the committee broke an impasse over several disputed provisions in the bill, according to Senate aides.
For example, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman and ranking member Susan Collins were at odds with Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio, over whether a person could board an airplane without showing a PASS ID -- a driver's license or identification card that meets standards set by Homeland Security Department.
Under the original bill introduced by Akaka last month, the Transportation Security Administration could not prevent a person from boarding a plane "solely" because she or he failed to present a PASS ID.
But Lieberman and Collins worried the language could cause legal confusion, so they plan to offer a substitute bill without it during a committee markup today. In turn, Akaka and Voinovich will offer language stipulating that the Homeland Security Department has the discretion to allow people to board planes without a PASS ID.
The net effect will be that people would be able to board planes without a PASS ID but would not have a legal claim against TSA if they are prevented from boarding, aides said.
Another contentious issue concerned whether states should be required to verify the authenticity of identification documents, such as birth records, before issuing a person a PASS ID.
The original bill did not include a verification requirement, which critics cited as a major security loophole. The senators agreed Monday that states will have to begin verifying birth records starting in five years, giving them time to prepare, aides said.
The compromise will give Homeland Security the authority to issue PASS ID regulations quickly. Aides said this is necessary to meet the bill's requirement that regulations be issued within nine months of the measure's enactment.
Under the compromise, the department would be allowed to bypass the traditional rulemaking process, meaning the public will not have a chance to comment on the regulations. Aides said they expect most regulations that were issued under the 2005 law and opened to public comment will be reissued under the new law.
Senators also had been at odds over whether private businesses, such as retailers, should be prevented from scanning and storing information contained on PASS ID cards. Compromise language agreed to by the senators will ask the FTC to examine whether companies should be allowed to do so, an aide said.
Under the bill, state motor vehicle departments would have one year after PASS ID regulations go into effect to begin issuing cards that meet all federal standards. States must be in compliance by 2016 or their citizens will not be able to use their driver's licenses as identification to enter federal buildings.
Federal and state officials say the PASS ID bill must be enacted into law this year. If it isn't, they say requirements of the 2005 law go into effect on Jan. 1, which could include requiring tens of thousands of airline passengers to go through secondary screening at airports every day, creating confusion and delays.