Pennsylvania is the largest of nine states to not comply with federal Real ID law for driver's licenses

Eleven passenger and cargo airlines have implored the Pennsylvania legislature to comply with a federal Department of Homeland Security Real ID law that requires states to change driver’s licenses to reduce counterfeiting.

Pennsylvania is the largest state that has not complied with the law, passed by Congress after the 2001 terror attacks. Other noncompliant states are Oklahoma, Minnesota, Washington, Maine, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, and Montana.

Pennsylvania’s failure to comply with the 2005 law could cost residents nearly $1 billion to acquire passports, the airlines said in a letter to state House and Senate members this week. And not complying will hurt parcel and cargo deliveries because drivers won’t be able to enter federal buildings and military facilities after June 6 if their only ID is a Pennsylvania driver’s license.

The Aviation Council of Pennsylvania estimates that 5.8 million state residents fly each year.

“Your prompt attention to this pressing matter is appreciated,” said the letter signed by American, Delta, Southwest, United, JetBlue, Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant, Lufthansa, FedEx, and United Parcel Service (UPS).

The most serious impact will be next Jan. 22, when Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners at U.S. airports will turn away Pennsylvania residents if their only ID is a Pennsylvania driver’s license.

“The traveling public is not aware that Pennsylvania is not in compliance,” said Debra Bowman, executive director of the Aviation Council trade group representing the state’s $23.6 billion aviation industry. “They are going to get their kids and family ready to fly to Orlando to go to Disney World — and they’ve saved up for a whole year — and they are not going to be able to get on a plane.”

American Airlines, which operates a hub in Philadelphia and 450 daily flights at eight airports in Pennsylvania, said that nearly 87 percent of American’s customers fly once a year — to a meeting, wedding, funeral, or vacation. Forcing them to acquire a second form of identification before traveling — a passport — “adds an unnecessary and avoidable burden,” said Rhett Workman, American’s managing director of government and airport affairs.

Federal officials told Pennsylvania in October that the state would get no more extensions because it had made no effort to comply. The Wolf administration in January was granted a six-month reprieve through June 6. But after June 6, a Pennsylvania driver’s license will no longer be accepted as a valid ID at military bases, nuclear facilities, and other federal sites.

Effective Jan. 22, 2018, a Pennsylvania driver’s license will no longer be accepted by TSA screeners at airports.

How did Pennsylvania get to this point? In 2012, the legislature passed a “nonparticipation” act that barred the state Department of Transportation (PennDot) from complying. Critics said the ID law was an “unfunded mandate” and intruded on states’ rights. “There was a lot of misinformation that this would be a national database, which it is not,” Bowman said. “It’s a state database. The General Assembly figured that the majority of states would do the same thing." But that did not happen.

The Trump administration’s new director of Homeland Security said recently that “they are continuing with Real ID,” Bowman said.

PennDOT does not have a cost estimate, but making the current driver's license compliant will require a mark, or symbol, on the license as well as upgrades to back-office operations and systems, said PennDOT spokesman Rich Fitzpatrick. The law also requires drivers to present documentation, such as a birth certificate and Social Security card, the first time they get an ID-compliant license, “which could present a challenge,” Fitzpatrick said.

PennDOT is awaiting the outcome of legislation that passed the Senate on March 28 and is in the House State Government Committee to repeal the 2012 “nonparticipation” act and authorize PennDot to move ahead. Committee chairman Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler) said that his staff and committee are working "actively" to resolve the issues.

A letter signed by 116 members of the House was sent to President Trump and the state's congressional delegation to get answers about the costs of the Real ID law, states' rights issues, and privacy concerns “with the way the data is going to be collected.” Metcalfe said he expects "to be able to move forward" before June 6.

If legislation is approved by the House and Senate, and signed by Gov. Wolf, Homeland Security will give Pennsylvania until 2020 to fully comply, Bowman said.

If Pennsylvania does not implement Real ID, some smaller airlines are talking about leaving the state, including Allegiant Air, which has numerous flights to smaller airports, she said. “It’s not going to put Pennsylvania in a good light.”

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