Opinion: Napolitano looks to revamp the Bush-era ‘Real ID’ law


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Three years ago, the Republican-run Senate pushed through a ‘Real ID’ program requiring states to change all their drivers licenses to meet federal standards of digital technology and security stringency and connect their records to a federal database. The issue played to a core GOP constituency. The Wall Street Journal called it an effort to ‘placate noisy anti-immigration conservatives.’ No more drive-by or mail-in registrations. As the Journal reported at the time:

Under Real ID, which is scheduled to go into effect next year, all 245 million current license holders in the U.S. are required to head down to the local Department of Motor Vehicles with certified source documents -- such as a birth certificate or Social Security card -- to apply for the new standardized national ID. And people from states that don’t play ball won’t be able to use their licenses to board planes or enter federal buildings.


Enacted as part of an emergency Iraq war spending bill, and signed by President Bush, the Real ID Act paved the way for a world in which Americans without a federally approved ID could not open a bank account, enter federal buildings, or fly on a commercial airline. Oh, and according to one Department of Homeland Security estimate, it would cost the states $23.1 billion over 10 years.

Governors have been fuming ever since. And one of them, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, is now secretary of Homeland Security. So, you guessed it, the department is undertaking a huge review to examine ‘realistic options’ with the officials who must put the program into action -- the nation’s governors.

And Napolitano, who plans to drop by the National Governors Assn. winter meeting in Washington this weekend, thinks the answer might be in ‘enhanced drivers license’ that are less onerous than Real ID.

Enhanced drivers licenses give confidence that the person holding the card is the person who is supposed to be holding the card, and it’s less elaborate than Real ID.

Like the Patriot Act, Real ID was passed in a frenzy of patriotism -- and a political fear of looking soft on terrorism. Maybe, as a New Mexico newspaper argued this week, the best way to repeal the onerous provisions of the Real ID law is, well, to repeal it.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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