Arizona may create driver's license that complies with Real ID requirements of federal law
PHOENIX -- State lawmakers are moving to let Arizonans fly off on vacation to New York, Hawaii or even just to Yuma without having to get a passport.
Legislation given preliminary Senate approval would allow -- but not require -- Arizona residents to get a driver's license that complies with the Real ID requirements of federal law. They would have to pay an extra fee, above the regular cost of a license, which would be determined by the Motor Vehicle Division.
But what they would get is a license that is specifically recognized by the Department of Homeland Security. More to the point, it will be acceptable identification to board an aircraft.
That's not important now, as a standard Arizona's license continues to suffice.
But Homeland Security says those licenses will not be acceptable as early as this coming January. That means bringing a document the federal government recognizes -- the most popular being a passport -- or not getting on the plane at all.
This proposal would provide an alternative.
At the heart of the looming problem for Arizonans is the Real ID Act, a 2005 federal law adopted in the wake of the 9-11 attacks by hijackers who flew aircraft into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
That law requires states to adopt new procedures for issuing driver's licenses, like getting certain documentation and verifying they are in this country legally. And it requires that the licenses themselves be made more secure against forgery and tampering.
But in 2008 the Legislature voted to block the Motor Vehicle Division from implementing the law.
Karen Johnson, then a state senator from Mesa, said she was concerned about not just the documents that MVD would have to review but the fact that they would have to check the authenticity of these documents through various databases. And that, Johnson said, puts much of that information within reach of people who can hack into computer systems.
Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, said the result has been that MVD has been unable to take all the steps to create a Real ID-compliant license.
"And that means that people will have to go get their passport to travel to Denver,' he said.
"I think that's ridiculous," Worsley continued. "A passport, if you want to rush it, is $300."
The problem, he said, is not just for travelers.
Worsley pointed out that since Jan. 19, a Real ID-compliant license or passport has been necessary to enter certain federal buildings. And the government, he said, is taking it seriously, saying he knows someone who was turned away from a federal building last month "because he had an Arizona driver's license.'
The fee for the new license will be set by MVD. It will be on top of current fees which are based on age, starting at $10 for those 50 and older, $20 for those 40 through 50 and $25 for those ages 16 through $39
Worsley said the licenses will not have any sort of RFID chip, essentially a computer chip that allows someone with the right kind of device to track the movements of the wearer.
The other big changes is that Real ID licenses have to be renewed every eight years. Current licenses generally are good until age 65, though MVD requires motorists to have a new picture taken every 12 years.
The latest report from Homeland Security shows that only three other states do not have licenses that meet the requirements for Real ID.
Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia