​Max Bluestein, October 25, 2016

​The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced that on January 30, 2017, Pennsylvania residents “will need an alternative, secure form of identification to gain admittance to all federal facilities, military bases and nuclear power plants” because their driver’s licenses and ID cards didn’t meet federal security standards before the REAL ID deadline. The Department of Homeland Security did grant several states extensions to comply with the REAL ID Act, but Pennsylvania was not among them due to its total lack of progress in securing its documents. If the state continues to lag, Pennsylvanians won’t even be able to use their licenses to board airplanes in 2018.

My second warning to Pennsylvania on REAL ID

The impending calamity is due to a 2012 Pennsylvania state law, Act 38, that prohibited the Governor and Department of Transportation from participating in the REAL ID Act or any of its regulations. The bill was championed by State Senator Mike Folmer, who incorrectly called REAL ID a national ID and was joined by a chorus of his colleagues who said the law would never be enforced.

Way back in May 2011, I testified in the state Senate against Act 38 (then SB354), trying to help Pennsylvania avoid this exact crisis. Battling a hostile panel of Senators in the Communications and Technology Committee, I argued that the REAL ID Act is not a national ID but a set of best practices to prevent thieves, impostors, and foreign terrorists from using our driver’s licenses as weapons. I testified that if this bill passed, it would “remove the flexibility of the Governor and the state executive branch to keep Pennsylvania current with the security improvements now underway in a majority of driver’s license agencies across the country”. 

I informed the Committee that the bill must be struck down so that “Pennsylvania driver’s license will continue to be accepted by the federal government and in all other states as the proof of the bearer’s identity”. In my testimony, I also predicted that most of the country will move forward on complying with the law in the coming years and, if this bill passes, the other states will leave Pennsylvania behind, along with Montana, Washington, and Oklahoma (all of which are also noncompliant).

However, the Committee didn’t listen. No one listened. SB354 moved through the Communications and Technology Committee unanimously, then through the Senate floor unanimously, and finally through the House 189 – 5 until it became Act 38, “REAL ID Nonparticipation”. 

Now, because of that bill, not only are Pennsylvania’s driver’s licenses highly vulnerable to fraud and impostors, but they can’t be used to enter federal buildings and military bases. But in 2018, it will get worse. Unless the legislature overturns Act 38, Pennsylvanians’ driver’s licenses will be treated as no identification at all by TSA at airports across  the country. That means residents will be forced to get passports in order to fly (tragically, the actual national ID that Senator Folmer warned against). If the Act is repealed, the process to meet the requirements can begin and hopefully Pennsylvania can avoid a travel nightmare. 

I warned in 2011 that the federal government won’t flinch and will enforce the REAL ID Act on Pennsylvania. I hate to say it, but I was right. I’m warning the state again that unless action is taken soon, I will be right again.