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Pennsylvania

Federal agencies to stop accepting Pa. driver's licenses as proof of identity

| Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016, 11:12 p.m.

Federal agencies will begin rejecting Pennsylvania driver's licenses and photo IDs as official forms of identification on Jan. 30 unless the state comes into compliance with a national law that sets standards for state-issued IDs.

Pennsylvanians won't be able to use their state IDs to enter military bases, nuclear power plants and other federal facilities, Homeland Security officials said in an Oct. 11 letter to PennDOT. The restriction does not apply to people attempting to obtain federal benefits.

If the federal requirements remain unmet in January 2018, the restrictions will expand to prohibit Pennsylvanians from using their driver's licenses to board commercial aircraft.

The disagreement between federal and state officials goes back to 2005, when Congress passed the REAL ID Act, which established minimum security standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification cards, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission.

In 2012, Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a law that prohibited the governor and PennDOT from participating in the REAL ID program, citing among other concerns an estimated $140 million cost.

PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards in a statement Thursday said her agency has always focused on improving driver's license security.

Still, the Homeland Security letter states Pennsylvania IDs fail to meet seven REAL ID requirements, including DHS-approved markings, prohibiting remote renewals and requiring in-person reissuance when personally indentifiable information changes.

“In large measure, we are out of compliance for limited technical reasons and because existing state law bars us from fully complying,” Richards said. “While we understand the frustration with the cost of this unfunded mandate, our failure to comply because of the prohibition of current law will be a burden for Pennsylvanians.”

Gov. Tom Wolf's Press Secretary Jeffrey Sheridan in a statement said “REAL ID requirements amount to an unfunded and unnecessary federal mandate, but if we do not comply, and currently we are prohibited from doing so by act of the Legislature, the people of Pennsylvania will be unfairly burdened.”

“We are hopeful to work with the Legislature regarding this matter,” he said.

State House and Senate leaders could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

PennDOT has issued just shy of 9 million driver's licenses, plus 1.4 million non-driver's license ID cards, spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick said.

Michael Walton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 412-380-5627 or mwalton@tribweb.com.

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