With the deadline on Saturday, the Louisiana congressional delegation asked federal authorities to wait a while before forbidding the use of state drivers’ licenses to access federal courthouses, military bases and other facilities, saying the state would be in compliance soon.
A majority of the state’s U.S. representatives and senators asked that the enforcement of the security standards adopted in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks be extended “for our citizens for as long as is necessary for us to become entirely REAL ID compliant.” Monday’s letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was signed by everyone in the Louisiana delegation except U.S. House Whip Steve Scalise, of Jefferson, and Rep. John Fleming, of Minden, both Republicans.
Travelers on commercial airlines were still going to be allowed to use their Louisiana drivers’ licenses as identification until sometime in 2016. But federal authorities are supposed to start enforcing much of the rest of the law on Saturday, requiring compliant drivers’ licenses to establish identity before the person is allowed to enter most federal facilities.
Col. Michael Edmonson, the State Police superintendent who is also in charge of the Office of Motor Vehicles, had asked for an extension last month, noting that Louisiana’s system met the most important of REAL ID’s security standards: verifying the birth certificates and other documentation that most use to acquire personal identification.
He also asked for the congressional delegation’s help.
“Louisiana is taking all the necessary steps to comply with new REAL ID standards, but law enforcement officials in the state say we need just a little more time,” Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, said in a prepared statement. “The Department of Homeland Security should grant this delay as soon as possible to ensure no Louisiana citizens are unnecessarily barred from entry into federal buildings or installations.”
Louisiana legislators in 2008 banned the state from meeting the federal requirements, citing privacy concerns and security features that have since been addressed. In 2014, the Legislature reversed itself and passed a bill that would allow drivers to choose whether to be REAL ID compliant, but Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed the measure on the advice of conservative groups, including the Tea Party of Louisiana.
Louisiana is one of four states that do not comply with the federal law or already have received extensions.
Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who is running for governor to replace the term-limited Jindal, said in a prepared statement: “Under no circumstances should Louisianians be turned away for using their legal driver’s licenses to travel or enter federal buildings. There is a clear precedent for granting extensions, and there is no justifiable reason for DHS to pursue this arbitrary cutoff date.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy, also a Republican, argued that the alternatives to using noncompliant, state-issued identification would be expensive and inconvenient. “Not everyone has an extra $100-plus to renew or get a passport. If the state of Louisiana recognizes our licenses as valid, the federal government should respect this,” Cassidy said in a prepared statement.
Homeland Security reports that about 80 percent of all U.S. drivers hold licenses that meet the REAL ID Act’s standards or are from states that received extensions.
Edmonson has said Louisiana’s system for issuing driver’s licenses meets all but a couple of the federal standards. Louisiana does not photograph each person as he or she enters an office to seek a drivers’ license nor scan the documents immediately, as required under the federal standards.
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