Texas officials endorse enhanced driver's licenses

The top cop in Texas has endorsed a plan for the state to develop enhanced driver's licenses that can double as border-crossing credentials.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Tuesday ruled that the cards proposed as part of the state's high-tech licensing plan would satisfy federal law. Abbott was asked for his opinion about the initiative by the director of the Department of Public Safety.

The Legislature recently authorized the plan to develop the license, which will be designed to meet nationwide standards for driving credentials recently released by the Homeland Security Department, as well as specifications for another initiative to speed cross-border travel. Several other border states are moving to issue licenses that would satisfy both the so-called REAL ID Act and the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

Abbott said in his opinion that enhanced licenses would be legal under federal passport laws if they conform to the technology, security and operational requirements of the travel initiative, which mandate that that the cards be tamper-proof and machine-readable.

The ruling came as many states are considering the costs and consequences of developing driver's licenses to comply with REAL ID. Homeland Security earlier this month released the final regulations for the statute.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has said the final rules were designed to allow states more flexibility in meeting REAL ID's requirements. The department delayed several key deadlines to give states more time to enroll drivers, which Chertoff said should reduce the costs of compliance considerably.

Several states already have decided to ignore REAL ID. Privacy advocates also are pushing Congress to move on federal legislation to repeal the law.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, has continued to reach out to other governors in his quest to block the law. He said in a letter to governors last week that he wants them to speak with "one unified voice and demand that Congress step in and fix this mess."

Schweitzer signed a bill last year that prevents Montana from participating in REAL ID. Members of Montana's congressional delegation also have expressed serious concerns.

Legislation has been offered in both chambers of Congress to wipe the REAL ID slate clean and restart a negotiated rulemaking process to develop licensing standards that was abandoned when the bill was passed.

Schweitzer wrote that the cooperative rulemaking process would give state officials a seat at the table and could facilitate the development of more secure IDs faster than REAL ID ultimately will with the new deadlines.

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