Long-delayed “REAL ID” licenses coming to PA


After more than 13 years of delay, Pennsylvania will begin complying with the federal REAL ID Act in March. That will give residents a year and a half to get the new IDs, or potentially face inconveniences when traveling or visiting federal facilities.

The state will begin issuing harder-to-forge driver’s licenses and ID cards to comply with the 2005 law. The cards are voluntary, but beginning in October 2020, residents will need either REAL ID, a passport or military ID to enter most federal buildings or to pass through airport security.

Over the past 16 months, the state has spent more than $24 million to prepare five free-standing centers and retrofit six other licensing centers to issue new cards required after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The REAL ID facilities require more security than regular driver’s license centers to meet federal standards. 

“We’re still on track to begin issuing in March,” said Kurt Myers, deputy secretary for driver and vehicle services at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “There are a lot of moving parts, but I feel comfortable that things will be in place by March.”

For years, the state refused to participate because of concerns that REAL ID was the first step toward a federal ID card, which some consider improper, and because of the projected cost of $250 million to $300 million. The state Legislature even passed a law making it illegal to comply.

But that changed in October 2016, when the federal Department of Homeland Security notified the state that it would begin to refuse entry to federal buildings first and airport security a year later if Pennsylvania and five other states didn’t take steps to comply.

In January 2017, after Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders promised to begin moving toward compliance, federal officials issued a series of deadline extensions.

To prepare for the availability of the cards, the state has allowed residents to pre-register in two ways depending on when their license or ID card was issued.

Residents who received their first cards after 2003 have been able to pre-register online since March because PennDOT still has proof of their identification on file. More than 200,000 residents have taken advantage of that.

Since September, residents with licenses or ID cards issued before 2003 have been able to pre-register by providing proof of their ID through an original or certified copy of their birth certificate with a raised seal or a valid passport; proof of a Social Security number such as an unlaminated Social Security card; proof of legal name changes such as a marriage license or an order from family court; and two proofs of current address such as a valid driver’s license or ID card and a bank statement or utility bill less than 90 days old.

Once customers gather those documents, they can go to any driver’s license center for staff to copy the documents.

About 30,000 have pre-registered this way so far, Mr. Myers said. He expects the current rate of 3,000 to 4,000 people visiting license centers each week to increase when the state gets closer to issuing the new cards.

In March, when cards should be available, those who have pre-registered can go online to pay the fee and their card will be mailed to them. The cards will cost $30 plus a renewal fee of $30.50 for a non-commercial license or ID card.

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