To help states meet the requirement, the bill authorizes the new, three-year $150 million grant program. Senators agreed on an amendment from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., requiring the department to produce an annual report on the privacy implications of PASS ID.
A Senate panel approved legislation today that would establish federal security standards for driver’s licenses and identification cards, including a $150 million grant program to help states digitize birth records.
The bill creating the PASS ID program, approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee by voice vote, will require states to issue driver’s licenses that are compliant with federal standards by 2016. States will have to show they are moving toward compliance by 2011.
The bill is intended to replace the 2005 REAL ID law, which federal and state officials roundly criticized as unworkable. It is expected to be brought to the Senate floor soon, as it needs to be enacted by December in order to repeal looming deadlines under REAL ID.
Details of the bill were negotiated in recent days by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman and ranking member Susan Collins, along with Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and George Voinovich, R-Ohio.
The REAL ID act had mandated that states improve their qualifications for drivers licenses to heighten security. But states balked saying the measure amounted to an unfunded mandate from the federal government, and called for an unwieldy program of enforcement. Working with state governors, DHS Secretary Napolitano, who was one of those governors objecting to REAL ID, worked to draft the REAL ID bill which removed many of the states’ objections. “Real ID had a very real problem, it led to widespread rebellion by the state,” said Collins. “This act would greatly improve law while keeping standards for secure driver’s licenses.”
“The 9/11 Commission was very clear: for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons,” said Lieberman, adding that 11 of the 19 9/11 terrorists had legally obtained driver’s licenses.
The REAL ID act would mandate that states verify documents such as birth certificates which are used to attain licenses. The legislation would require states to check with existing national databases to confirm the documents and to verify the immigration status.
Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) voiced concerns about the implications for travelers and the role of the TSA. Collins introduced an amendment legally establishing the authority of TSA officials as the final arbiter of who can, and can’t, board an airliner on the basis of presented identification.
With the amendments, the PASS ID bill was approved by a unanimous vote of the committee.
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), who introduced the bill, said in a statement that the amended version of PASS ID wouldn’t require states to open to other states their motor vehicle departments’ databases that contain identity documents and personal information. However, Akaka’s office said the added amendments would:
- Deal with industry concerns about privacy limitations on uses of data Machine Readable Zones on driver’s licenses and identification cards.
- Provide resources for states to eventually verify the birth certificates of applicants electronically.
- Make clear that the Homeland Security Department retains its authority to bar people from boarding a federal aircraft.
- Require an annual asessment of the PASS ID Act by DHS’ Privacy Office and the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office.