Real ID legislation moving as deadline nears

David Weissman, 505-5431/@DispatchDavid
  • Pa. has until June 6 to comply with federal Real ID Act to update standards for issuing state IDs.
  • Not complying will mean state-issued IDs won't be accepted to board commercial flights in Jan. 2018.
  • Act 38, passed in 2012, prevents Pa. from complying, but bill to repeal that act nearing passage.

The deadline for Pennsylvania to comply with federal identification regulations — and avoid future complications with air travel — is approaching, but state legislators are still jockeying over how to proceed.

Airport logo

The Real ID Act, passed in 2005, establishes minimum-security standards for state-issued licenses and IDs and prohibits federal agencies from accepting licenses and IDs from states that don't meet these standards, according to the Department of Homeland Security website.

Pennsylvania, along with other noncompliant states, has been granted numerous extensions, but DHS has indicated its current deadline of June 6 is final unless a long-term compliance plan is reached.

Unless requirements are met, residents will need an alternative, secure form of identification — such as a passport — to gain admission to all federal facilities, military bases and nuclear power plants.

Effective Jan. 22, residents also will need an alternative form of ID accepted by the Transportation Security Administration to board a commercial flight.

Beginning to implement the required changes would require a repeal of previous legislative action because the state Legislature approved Act 38 in 2012 to prohibit the state Department of Transportation or the governor from participating in the Real ID Act.

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The state Senate nearly unanimously passed Senate Bill 133 in late March to repeal Act 38 and allow the state to comply with federal standards, but the bill sat in the House State Government Committee until early May.

Amendment: The committee adopted an amendment, despite every Democrat voting against it, that allows PennDOT to issue compliant and noncompliant IDs and require applicants for compliant IDs to pay for the full cost.

Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny and Washington counties, proposed the amendment because it allows for all residents to be satisfied, he said.

Saccone said PennDOT hasn't been able to provide him with a good cost estimate yet, but he believes the compliant IDs will cost about $100.

A driver's license valid for four years currently costs $30.50, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

Other states, including Kentucky, Washington and Oklahoma, have recently passed similar legislation allowing residents to opt-in to receive a compliant ID.

The amended bill passed the House on Monday with 54 Democrats, including Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, of York City, voting against the legislation.

Hill-Evans said she voted against it because she believed it was a form of voter suppression by inconveniencing ID seekers, though she admitted that she wasn't aware the amendment added would allow PennDOT to continue issuing noncompliant IDs.

Delay feared: Rep. Ed Neilson, D-Philadelphia, said in a news release that he voted against the amended bill because it wouldn't move the state into full compliance.

“This bill in its current form creates even more potential hurdles in meeting the June 6 deadline,” Neilson said in the release. “Gov. (Tom) Wolf and his administration had indicated that this bill will not do enough to ensure Pennsylvania is up to par with federal law, and I fully agree with him."

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J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Wolf's office, wrote that the administration has communicated concerns about the amended bill to the General Assembly, and they hope "a bill that fully repeals existing law blocking compliance is passed and sent to the governor to sign."

Alexis Campbell, a spokeswoman for PennDOT, wrote in an email that the department would not be able to determine its path toward compliance, including costs and a timeline, until Act 38 is full repealed.

The agency has previously said it would need at least 18 to 24 months to make all of the required changes.

The Senate amended the bill itself and passed it Tuesday, so the bill will be returned for another vote in the House, according to Sen. Mike Folmer, R-York and Lebanon counties.

Folmer said the Senate amendment merely cleaned up the language from the House amendment.

If the amended bill passes the House, it will go to the governor for signing.

The House and Senate each have three days remaining in session before the federal deadline passes.

— Reach David Weissman at or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.