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House Considers 'Real ID Act'


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote as early as today on a bill that would make it harder to get a driver's license. The measure would require states to use tougher standards when it comes to verifying that every person who applies for a license is who they say they are. NPR's Audie Cornish reports.

AUDIE CORNISH reporting:

The bill, known as the REAL ID Act, requires that states demand and then verify between four and six separate pieces of identification, and with upwards of 70 million people going in and out of DMV offices each year, states fear that administrative costs could be staggering.

Mr. CHEYE CALVO (National Conference of State Legislatures): This could, you know, easily range into the 300 to 400 million from a money standpoint. We're expecting this to be a significant unfunded mandate.

CORNISH: Cheye Calvo is head of the Transportation Committee at the National Conference of State Legislatures. He says that Congress is effectively shutting down the ongoing discussion between states and security agencies on how to approach the issue.

Mr. CALVO: This bill literally takes the state's seat away from the table and, in fact, dismantles the table.

CORNISH: For example, Calvo says states already ask for things like utility bills and bank statements as additional proof of ID. Now they would have to verify each one.

Mr. CALVO: Just think of the staff time, you know, it will take to make literally hundreds of millions of phone calls to an agency. I mean, Americans have trouble getting their utility company on the phone now or, you know, getting in touch with a live person at a bank. For a DMV to be in charge of that responsibility is an incredible task.

CORNISH: But administrative woes shouldn't outweigh security concerns, says Amanda Bowman. She's president of the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License. The advocacy group supports the legislation, which it sees as a key anti-terrorism measure.

Ms. AMANDA BOWMAN (Coalition for a Secure Driver's License): I'm not convinced that the additional documents that are required are going to place an onerous burden on the states and it's going to be up to them to prove that, because people are ready to pay that price if there's a perceived benefit of being safer.

CORNISH: Bowman is a US citizen and emigre from the UK, and she says she has no problem with the requirements of the REAL ID bill. She says as long as driver's licenses are used in areas under federal jurisdiction, such as airports, the federal government should be able to dictate identification standards.

Ms. BOWMAN: If it's being accepted as federal ID, I think there have to be standards that are adhered to across the country. If it becomes a voluntary thing, you can have one state that's adopted it and one state that hasn't, and therefore, if somebody is plotting some ill against the United States, they can just go to that state, get a driver's license, and that driver's license is accepted as federal ID all over the country.

CORNISH: The bill would prohibit federal agencies from accepting state licenses that don't meet the proposed standards, but the government can't have it both ways, says State Representative David Ure. The Utah Republican says as long as states are responsible for issuing licenses, they should control how it's done. Ure says the real problem is that driver's licenses aren't the only major form of ID that are non-standard.

State Representative DAVID URE (Republican, Utah): What are we going to define as a birth certificate? Does it have to be coming out of a hospital? If it comes out of a foreign country, what kind of parameters are we going to have on that birth certificate? Congress is moving much more fast than they have the basis for moving.

CORNISH: Ure objects to the fact that Congress hasn't even held hearings on the new proposals. Moreover, he says, the proposed three-year time line to implement the changes is unrealistic. States much preferred an effort that was already under way. That plan, part of an intelligence bill passed last year, required state and federal officials to work together on tightening driver's license security. Nevertheless, the tougher security measures seem likely to pass. Lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on the legislation this week. Audie Cornish, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.