Real ID bill advances despite Louisiana lawmaker's warning that feds will pull 'trap door' _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Sens. Yvonne Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, and Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, discuss legislation Tuesday that would allow Louisiana drivers' licenses to be REAL ID compliant.

Louisiana is one step closer to offering driver’s licenses that are compliant with a federal security measure that will make it easier for residents to take domestic flights and enter federal facilities in a few years.

The state Senate on Tuesday voted 31-7 in favor of Senate Bill 227, which would pave the way for Real ID compliance in Louisiana. The measure now heads to the state House for consideration. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, has said he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk.

Real ID compliance has been a political football in Louisiana for several years. In 2008, the Legislature, driven by fears of government overreach and privacy violations, banned the state from complying with the federal measure.

Starting Oct. 1, 2020, every air traveler will need identification that complies with Real ID. If the state’s licenses aren’t compliant, passengers will need another form of acceptable identification, such as a passport.

Sen. Yvonne Colomb, a Baton Rouge Democrat who sponsored this year’s Real ID compliance bill, said that passage of her measure would provide an opt-in to Real ID compliance. Those who have objections to the program wouldn’t be forced to take part.

“It gives our citizens the option,” Colomb said, noting that there would be no additional cost for a driver’s license that meets the new requirements.

She stressed that someone like her uncle — who doesn’t travel far and “would never fly” — could get a regular license, as could someone who already has a passport.

“As for me,” Colomb said, “I want to go everywhere. I want to be able to fly.”

A similar measure cleared the Legislature in 2014, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal.

During a nearly hourlong debate on the bill Tuesday, one Shreveport senator voiced his concerns about the potential for government overreach.

“These are the same people who are tapping our phone calls, reading our emails and capturing our social media,” said Sen. John Milkovich, a Democrat. “If Louisiana buys into Real ID, the federal requirements are going to be binding on them.”

Milkovich, reading from a thick stack of notes, said he worried about security breaches and what would become of the information needed to obtain Real ID licenses.

The state would keep copies of birth certificates and other personal information under the new system.

“Once we opt in, and the federal Real ID regulations and provisions come into play, the federal law governs,” he said. “They are going to pull the trap door.”

“The Russians, the Chinese and the Saudis could potentially have access to our information,” he added.

As of this year, 23 states have agreed to offer Real ID compliant licenses in the United States.

“I am proud as a Louisianan that Louisiana is a state that in 2008 said ‘We don’t need you. Our business is none of your cotton-picking business,’ ” Milkovich said.

Colomb, defending her bill, said she doesn’t believe the program is nefarious in nature.

“I think our country is honorable,” she said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp.

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