Even With New Legislation, A Pennsylvania Drivers License Is Still Not A REAL ID

May 25, 2017

Legislation to allow PennDOT to issue REAL ID-compliant drivers licenses is about to be signed by Gov. Tom Wolf, but that doesn't mean the ID in your pocket will truly be compliant with the federal standards.

As of June 7, non-compliant IDs will no longer be accepted for admittance into federal and nuclear facilities. TSA officials will stop accepting them for air travel as of Jan. 22, 2018.

Under current state law, PennDOT is prohibited from issuing federally complaint driver’s licenses. That law went into effect in 2012, due to concerns over privacy issues and questions over the constitutionality of the 2005 federal law.

PennDOT community relations coordinator for driver and vehicle services Alexis Campbell said as soon as the Governor signs the bill, PennDOT will ask the Department of Homeland Security for an extended deadline for compliance.

“Once that extension is in place, we can begin further conversations with Homeland Security and those conversation are going to determine what our path toward compliance will look like,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the transition period could take 18-24 months.

The state is already collecting the data required by the REAL ID program when it issues original licenses, but it might have to collect that information on a more regular basis. The photos and barcodes on the licenses are also compliant.

But just because the information is already being gathered does not make objectors to the program feel any better.

“You know, there’s always that balance between security and liberty,” said Allegheny Institute for Public Policy Senior Fellow Colin McNickle. “How much liberty do we give up for security and is it worth it? It’s a time-honored question going back to our founding.”

The Allegheny Institute has not taken an official stance on REAL ID or the bill awaiting the governor’s signature.

“Civil Libertarians say this is the equivalent of a national … identification and it harkens back to the day of Nazi Germany,” McNickle said.

The legislation would allow drivers to choose if they want to get a compliant license or a noncompliant license.

State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, authored the bill. She said the funds would not be muddled.

“Let’s pretend it costs PennDOT $40 to process a regular licenses. Maybe it’s going to cost $50 for a REAL ID. So that $10 is going to be born by the person who is requesting REAL ID,” Ward said. “We’re not going to make everybody pay $42. We’re not going to socialize our licenses.”

A Pennsylvania drivers licenses is valid for four years. It's unclear how a licenses holder would get a complaint ID between the time the state starts issuing them and when it would be up for renewal. Campbell said it will be up to Home Land Security to determine how long of a waive the state will receive.