More than half a dozen states will not be in compliance with a federal driver's license law by the end of the month, meaning lawmakers and the Homeland Security Department will have to find a stopgap solution to help them avoid penalties.
States were required by Tuesday to request a waiver from the Homeland Security Department in order to be considered in compliance with the Real ID law, which set strict standards for driver's licenses and identification cards.
Many federal and state officials say the law is unworkable and constitutes an unfunded mandate. Some state governments have passed laws prohibiting them from complying with the Bush-era law.
As of late Tuesday, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma and South Carolina, along with three U.S. territories, had not asked for a waiver, according to Homeland Security.
Technically, under the law, residents of states that do not have a waiver by the end of the month will be required to go through secondary screening at airports beginning Jan. 1, which could create confusion and disruptions for tens of thousands of airline passengers.
But no one expects that to happen. Instead, the department is likely to simply extend the deadline for states to come into compliance with Real ID. The federal commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks recommended national standards for driver's licenses.
Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano and the National Governors Association want Congress to pass legislation this month to repeal the Real ID law. The PASS ID Act was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in July, but Senate Republicans have kept it from advancing. A similar bill awaits committee action in the House.
"Secretary Napolitano has supported the efforts of governors and Congress to enact PASS ID, which puts states on the path to implementing national identification card standards and will enhance security across the country," a Homeland Security spokesman said.
"Should Congress not act before it adjourns this year, DHS has planned for contingencies related to REAL ID implementation, including extending the deadline as a last resort," he added. "This is a temporary approach that does not advance our security interests over the long-term, and DHS continues to urge Congress to enact a permanent solution to fulfill this key 9/11 Commission recommendation."
David Quam, NGA's director of federal relations, said state officials are ramping up their push to get their congressional delegations to back PASS ID.
"My sense is, depending on what happens and even if some of the timelines get extended, the underlying statute is still a problem. The need for PASS ID to correct these problems still exists," he said. "Even if the deadline moves, there will be another deadline, and it will still need to be addressed."