House Refuses REAL ID Licenses, Supports Separate ID Cards
BATON ROUGE (AP) — House lawmakers refused Wednesday to allow Louisiana to issue driver's licenses that comply with the federal REAL ID law. But they did agree to let people pay for a special state-issued identification card compliant with the federal act.
The House-approved proposal contrasts with the approach backed by the Senate and by Gov. John Bel Edwards. Senators voted two weeks ago to let drivers choose whether they want a REAL ID-compliant license or not.
The competing bill passed by the House would continue the ban on REAL ID compliance for licenses, but allow people to get a separate ID card that meets the terms of the federal act.
Louisiana residents would have to pay a fee — on top of their license cost — to get the second card. The Office of Motor Vehicles would have to create a separate database to house the documents that would be scanned and retained to meet the REAL ID security requirements.
Driving the debate is worry that without some compliance with the federal law, Louisiana residents could need a passport or other federally approved identification to board domestic flights or enter federal buildings within the next few years.
Privacy concerns have been repeatedly raised by conservative groups, however, about the data collection that would be required to comply. In 2014, Edwards' Republican predecessor, Bobby Jindal, vetoed a bill similar to the Senate approach because of data-sharing worries.
Congress passed the REAL ID Act to create national identification standards after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. More than 20 states meet the requirements, and most others like Louisiana have received temporary extensions, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Louisiana's lawmakers enacted a ban in 2008 on meeting the federal requirements. Since then, many of the most heavily criticized security features have been dropped.
"It's not for a national identification card," said Rep. Jimmy Harris, D-New Orleans. "REAL ID does not create a federal database of driver's license information."
Harris proposed a bill similar to the Senate version that would have allowed drivers to choose between a REAL ID-compliant license or not.
"It is optional, optional, optional," he said.
But the House voted 56-41 to heavily rewrite the bill as proposed by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, to instead create the separate REAL ID-compliant identification card. Johnson said that would ensure that people who don't want their information scanned into a database would be protected and their information wouldn't be shared with the federal government.
"I support Louisiana becoming REAL ID compliant. However, I think we have to do it in a very careful way," Johnson said.
Opponents of the change questioned the costs of the dual system.
"I guess I'm failing to appreciate the level of fear that's associated with this," said Rep. Randal Gaines, D-LaPlace.
Staci Hoyt, deputy commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles, has said to comply with the federal law Louisiana needs to scan into a database and store the birth certificates, passports or other documents used to verify a person's identity. She said the state has been regularly scanning the documents for new drivers since 2012.
Hoyt has said the state database can't be linked to other databases.
– by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte
For more information about House Bill 702 and Senate Bill 227 click here.