Capitol Alert

California races to issue driver’s licenses that will work at airport security

Facing the prospect of millions of Californians turned away at airport security checkpoints, the Brown administration is racing to bring the state’s driver’s licenses up to federal standards.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s revised budget proposal includes $220.6 million over the next six years to hire hundreds of workers to process applications for licenses and state-issued identification cards that comply with the U.S. Real ID Act. Congress approved the law after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks exposed security weaknesses in many states’ driver’s licenses.

About 25 states have licenses and ID cards that comply with the 2005 law, but California and other states were granted extensions. The Trump administration, though, has signaled there will be no more delays: Beginning Oct. 1, 2020, every air traveler will need to show a driver’s license or state-issued ID card that complies with the federal law to board an airplane, or bring along a passport or other form of identification accepted by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

Yet unlike the typical process of renewing driver’s licenses on the internet or through the mail, Californians will need to visit their local DMV office to apply for a Real ID-compliant license or ID card. If Californians seek the new licenses or ID cards at the same rate as people in other states – roughly 60 percent – DMV offices will be hit with a paper-shuffling tsunami of some 20 million people.

“When you’re dealing with the number of driver’s licenses we have in California, by definition, the numbers are going to be large,” said Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer.

To get a new license, people will have to provide more documentation than required under the current system. They will have to present a birth certificate or other proof of birth and legal presence, two documents showing California residency, and proof of a Social Security number. Real ID licenses and identification cards also will bear special markings.

California’s Assembly Bill 60 in 2013 allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain licenses. Those cannot be used to board an airplane or enter a federal facility.

The Brown administration didn’t include the money in the governor’s January budget proposal because officials were still studying the issue. This week’s revised budget seeks $23 million and 218 workers in the coming budget year, ramping up to $58 million and 715 positions in the 2019-2020 budget year before declining over the next few years.

DMV officials say they have been working on Real ID compliance for years.

“The DMV has been implementing practices that make our cards some of the best-protected in the country,” DMV spokeswoman Jessica Gonzalez said.

The money requested by Brown would pay for a marketing campaign to get the word out once Real ID-compliant licenses and ID cards become available on Jan. 2, 2018. It also will pay for additional overtime, security and janitorial costs linked to more offices being open Saturdays.

The 2005 law initially required state’s licenses and ID cards to meet federal standards by 2008. That deadline was pushed back to mid-2011 as states ran into trouble complying.

Later, the deadline for full compliance was set for January 2013, but that was postponed as well. Now states must get their driver’s licenses and ID cards into compliance by Oct. 1, 2020. Otherwise, residents will have to bring a passport or other type of acceptable identification with them to the airport. About 40 percent of U.S. residents had a passport as of December 2016.

Editor’s note: This post was updated May 13 at 1:35 p.m. to clarify the number of DMV workers that would be hired.