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Your PA license is about to be no good at federal buildings; prepare for airport security too

Starting January, you may have a little trouble getting into a federal building – and you may eventually face some added headaches at airport security. 


That’s because effective Jan. 30, 2017, Pennsylvania-issued driver’s licenses and IDs will be out of compliance with new federal requirements.

The federal Department of Homeland Security has notified Pennsylvania that state residents will face new restrictions when they attempt to enter federal facilities in January as a result of the failure of those state-issued documents to meet federal so-called REAL ID requirements.

Effective Jan. 30, Pennsylvania residents will need an alternative, secure form of identification to gain admittance to all federal facilities, military bases and nuclear power plants. The only exception is admittance to federal facilities for the purpose of applying for or receiving federal benefits. Each federal agency determines which secure identification it will accept.

Pennsylvania is prohibited from developing new identification by the state’s 2012 Act 38, which restricts the commonwealth from participation in the Real ID Act. Pennsylvania is one of about two dozen states that haven’t complied with the federal guideline.

The Real ID Act, passed in 2013, is intended to improve accuracy of state-issued identification documents to help inhibit terrorists’ ability to evade detection by using fraudulent identification. 

The law has been phased in over three years. The last phase, which applies to boarding federally regulated commercial aircraft, is supposed to be enforced “no sooner than 2016,” according to the Department of Homeland Security’s web site.

The Department of Homeland Security had been granting states not in compliance a series of extensions. In a letter dated Oct 11, the department informed PennDOT that no further extensions will be granted unless there are new developments or information provided on why standards remain unmet and the reasons for continued noncompliance.

DHS also pointed out that if Pennsylvania does not come into compliance by Jan 22, 2018 (or is not granted an extension), Pennsylvania residents will need to present an alternative form of identification acceptable to the Transportation Security Administration to board a commercial flight.

Visit the Department of Homeland Security website

“PennDOT has always focused on providing a secure driver’s license and supporting process and we already have made additional improvements,” said PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards. “In large measure, we are out of compliance for limited technical reasons and because existing state law bars us from fully complying. While we understand frustration with the cost of this unfunded federal mandate, our failure to comply because of the prohibition of current law will be a burden for Pennsylvanians.”

Under the new federal requirements, Pennsylvania would be required to obtain from people applying for a driver’s license:

  • Full legal name, date of birth, address, gender, driver’s license or ID card number, digital photo, signature, security features to prevent counterfeiting or duplication and machine-readable technology.

Those applying for an ID would be required to show:

  • A photo ID, documentation of date of birth, proof of social security number or verification of ineligibility, and name and principal residence.

States must also require residents to show whether they are a citizen or proof that they here legally. In some cases, residents would receive temporary IDs for the time they are approved to stay in the U.S.

The law is supposed to already be in effect for personnel entering federal facilities and nuclear power plants. It does not apply to ID used for voting or applying for or receiving Federal benefits.

About 70 to 80 percent of U.S. drivers already have licenses that meet the act’s standards, or have extensions to meet them in the future.

Concerns have been raised that the new law will result in a national identity card and centralized database on all drivers. This concern has been raised because the law requires states to electronically verify application information against federal databases and provide state-to-state access to verify that each applicant only holds a valid license in one jurisdiction.

PennDOT officials say that even if the Legislature were to lift the compliance ban, PennDOT would need time to retrofit its system to accommodate a fully compliant REAL ID process.

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