Officials draft changes to Bush-era mandate on ID cards

Federal and state officials have drafted legislation to replace a controversial 2005 law that set national standards for driver's licenses and identification cards, but critics say the proposal would not guarantee enough security.

The legislation is expected to be introduced by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and would repeal requirements set by the REAL ID law. Under the bill, the Homeland Security Department would conduct a nine-month rulemaking process, with states then having five years to comply, according to a draft obtained by CongressDaily.

But in a significant departure from the existing law, the bill would not bar people from boarding a commercial airplane solely for failing to have a state-issued ID card that met federal standards. State governments are expected to back the bill because many of its key provisions originated with the National Governors Association. The proposal also appears to have the backing of the Obama administration, which has been working with NGA on it.

The Homeland Security Department declined to comment. Some of the biggest differences between the law and the proposed alternative deal with information-technology requirements, aides said. They cautioned that the bill is still in draft form and key lawmakers are determining whether to co-sponsor it. The law was an initiative of the Bush administration that has been roundly criticized as an unfunded mandate imposed on states.

The bill would eliminate a mandate for states to create a national information-technology system for sharing data. Instead, state departments of motor vehicles would have to "take appropriate steps" to determine a person does not have a license from another state. And a test program would be established to determine the feasibility of creating a national information-sharing system. The bill also eliminates a requirement that states scan and store identification documents, such as birth certificates, electronically.

But Janice Kephart, national security director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said in an interview that the law mandated the creation of a national database to ensure that people could not get multiple driver's licenses from different states, as did some of the perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Requiring records to be digitized is essential to security, Kephart added. Eliminating the requirement to verify identification documents would create a loophole through which someone who has falsified or stolen identity records could get a driver's license, she said.

In another major departure from the law, the bill would not require states to verify identification documents that applicants use to get a license, such as birth certificates or records showing where they live. Instead, motor vehicle departments would have to validate that the documents are authentic -- meaning trained personnel would examine them. But the bill would still require states to verify that an applicant is in the country legally. State motor vehicle officials would be expected to check federal immigration and Social Security databases, but would not have to pay any fees to access those databases.

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