PHOENIX — State lawmakers are moving to make sure Arizonans can fly off on vacation to New York, Hawaii or even just to Yuma without having to get a passport.
Legislation given preliminary Senate approval would allow — but not require — Arizona residents to get a driver’s license that complies with the federal Real ID requirements. They would have to pay an extra fee, above the regular cost of a license. The amount would be determined by the Motor Vehicle Division.
What they would get is a license that is recognized by the Department of Homeland Security and will be acceptble identification to board an aircraft.
That’s not important now, as a standard Arizona’s license continues to suffice.
But Homeland Security says non-Real ID-compliant licenses will not be acceptable, possibly as early as January. That means carrying a document the federal government recognizes — the most popular being a passport — or not being allowed to board the plane at all.
This proposal would provide an alternative.
At the heart of the looming problem for Arizonans is the Real ID Act, a 2005 federal law adopted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by hijackers who flew aircraft into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
That law requires states to adopt new procedures for issuing driver’s licenses, like getting certain documentation and verifying the license holder is in this country legally. And it requires the licenses themselves be made more secure against forgery and tampering.
But in 2008 the Legislature voted to block the Motor Vehicle Division from implementing the law.
Karen Johnson, then a state senator from Mesa, said she was concerned about not just the documents that MVD would have to review, but the fact that it would have to check the documents’ authenticity through various databases. That, she said, put much information within reach of people who could hack into computer systems.
Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, said the result has been that the MVD has been unable to take all the steps to create a Real ID-compliant license.
“And that means that people will have to go get their passport to travel to Denver,” he said.
“I think that’s ridiculous,” Worsley continued. “A passport, if you want to rush it, is $300.”
The problem, he said, is not just for travelers.
Worsley pointed out that since Jan. 19, a Real ID-compliant license or passport has been necessary to enter certain federal buildings.
Worsley said he was motivated by learning about someone who “was turned down from getting into a federal building last month because he had an Arizona driver’s license. And that was no longer valid.”
The fee for the new license will be set by the MVD. It will be on top of current fees which are on a sliding scale based on age, with the most expensive priced at $25 for those ages 16 through 39, going down to $10 for those over 50.
Worsley said the licenses will not have any sort of computer chip that allows someone with the right kind of device to track the movements of the wearer.
Real ID licenses have to be renewed every eight years. Current licenses generally are good until age 65, though the MVD requires motorists to have a new picture taken every 12 years.
The latest report from Homeland Security shows that only three other states do not have licenses that meet Real ID requirements.
Follow Howard Fischer on Twitter at @azcapmedia.