New Jersey

Security Standoff: PennDOT Says State Law Prevents It From Making PA IDs Federally Acceptable

Boarding a plane is going to get a lot more complicated for Pennsylvania residents come January 22, 2018 (as you've probably heard), and PennDOT officials say you should look to none other than state legislators to fix the problem before the deadline.


Pennsylvania has a law on the books that PennDOT says is preventing it from making the necessary enhancements to driver's licenses and state ID cards to bring them into compliance with federal standards. PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said the federal requirements are generally technical and have to do with the state's license-issuing processes. Although Pennsylvania IDs do boast a number of security features, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning letter to PennDOT last week: Comply with the federal "REAL ID" law standards, or else.

Regulations for Pennsylvania ID holders begin to go into effect Jan. 30, 2017, when the feds warned that Pennsylvania licenses would no longer be accepted as identification to get into federal facilities like military bases and nuclear plants (they will, however, still be accepted to obtain federal benefits and get into buildings to do so). The more sweeping and worrisome regulation goes into effect a year after that, on Jan. 22, 2018, when Pennsylvania IDs -- as things stand now -- won't be accepted by the Transportation Security Administration to board flights.

So why doesn't PennDOT just fix everyone's ID before that?

The short answer, Kirkpatrick said, is that their hands are tied. Pennsylvania enacted the REAL ID Nonparticipation Act in 2012 saying the state would not comply with the federal government's "REAL ID" requirements. So, Kirkpatrick explained to NBC10 on Tuesday, PennDOT is barred from making the necessary changes to comply.

The state's noncompliance act is brief -- it's only 20 lines on the Pennsylvania General Assembly's website -- but it challenges the "constitutionality and legality" of the federal government's REAL ID Act of 2005.

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Kirkpatrick said if the state quells the feds' request to be granted an extension, Pennsylvanians could be spared from the hurdle of having to get a passport or some other TSA-approved ID to fly come 2018.

"What constitutes that is really up to the federal government," he said. "But at this point, because of the state law that's on the books, PennDOT can take no additional steps. So that's kind of the dilemma we're facing."

A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday said that the federal REAL ID requirements "amount to an unfunded and unnecessary federal mandate," but echoed Kirkpatrick on the state law preventing compliance.

He said Pennsylvania citizens would be "unfairly burdened" if the state doesn't comply with federal standards. "We are hopeful to work with the legislature regarding this matter."

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