Mississippi considers federal REAL-ID requirements

BY BOBBY HARRISON
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The already painfully slow process of driver's license renewal could be stretched to the proverbial snail's pace thanks to federal legislation that Mississippi has yet to adopt.

In coming years, the Mississippi Legislature must deal with the federal REAL-ID legislation, which requires states to develop driver's licenses and identification cards that meet federal guidelines.

Congress passed REAL-ID legislation in 2005 as part of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

States are not required to comply with REAL-ID, but Adam Telle of Sen. Thad Cochran's office said federal agencies won't recognize state-issued driver's licenses or IDs unless those cards are in compliance. That could affect the ability of a person from a non-compliant state to board a commercial aircraft or access a federal facility.

Mississippi House Transportation Chairman Warner McBride, D-Courtland, held a committee hearing on the REAL-ID issue recently. He said some have equated it to an unfunded federal mandate.

Steve Simpson, appointed earlier this year as commissioner of Public Safety by Gov. Haley Barbour, said it is too early to estimate the cost of REAL-ID to Mississippi, but did say it would require “a complete revamping of our system.”

Simpson acknowledged that the current system is slow and burdensome for people wanting to obtain, renew or replace a license. He said it is an issue he is working on, but said the driver's license bureau is understaffed and the people underpaid.

Mississippi received about $700,000 from the federal government to go toward enacting REAL-ID. Simpson said that is far short of what is needed.

In addition to training personnel, the current system would have to be purged.

Originally, REAL-ID was supposed to be in operation in March of this year. But that deadline has been extended to May 2011 at the latest.

The nationwide cost is estimated to be at least $4 billion, Jeremy Meadows of the National Conference of State Legislatures told McBride and his committee. Thus far Congress has appropriated $90 million.

Under REAL-ID, states must electronically verify a person's identification documents, such as birth certificate and Social Security card, through multiple national databanks and must terminate a driver's license from any other state.

Employees also must be trained to recognize false documents.

Thus far 10 states have passed legislation rejecting REAL-ID while 19 states are moving toward adoption. Legislation has been introduced in Mississippi, but nothing has passed.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601)-353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.