Arizona Department of Transportation officials said Wednesday the state has been given extra time by the federal government to develop a driver’s license that complies with new federal security rules mandated by the 2005 REAL ID Act, a move that means state residents will likely be able to continue using their current documents at airports and federal buildings for five more years.
The state now has until April instead of Jan. 1 to finish the work needed to begin issuing the more-secure licenses and ID cards, Department of Transportation spokesman Ryan Harding said Wednesday. Once the state begins issuing the documents, current non-compliant licenses will continue to be accepted until 2020.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security could begin barring travelers from states that aren’t complying with the law as early as next year.
Arizona is behind the curve on implementing REAL ID because of a 2008 law that was signed by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano that barred the state from participating in the program. Napolitano, a Democrat, called REAL ID an unfunded federal mandate when she signed the legislation.
The new rules require states to ensure the applicant’s identity and citizenship when they issue the documents. That includes checking national databases to ensure identities and tamper-proof designs.
The problem surfaced this session at the Legislature, when Republican Sen. Bob Worsley highlighted the risk to state business interests and normal travelers if Homeland Security began refusing to accept Arizona’s documents.
He championed a proposal to allow ADOT to offer optional REAL ID compliant licenses and ID cards to meet the federal standards which was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey.
The Homeland Security Department said four states still don’t have either a compliant ID or a waiver from the government and residents carrying those documents be subject to tougher checks starting in January. Transportation Security Administration already makes provisions for people who lack proper travel documents at airports, routinely checking other documents and allowing travelers to proceed.
The state is completing the technical work to develop the new licenses and identity checks and hopes to have the program up and running by the new April deadline, Harding said. At that point, people with current documents will be able to apply for new licenses or ID cards for a fee.
Harding said the fee hasn’t been set and he isn’t sure if Arizonans will have to pay an extra fee if they choose a compliant license during a regular renewal. The extra five years will residents allow plenty of time to apply for the more-secure licenses before new federal rules take effect, he said.