Military commanders told Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster on Friday that the state's non-compliance with federal Real ID driver's licenses will cause them headaches.
Unless the federal government grants an extension, as it has done for the past five years, beginning on Jan. 30 visitors, delivery people and workers without U.S. Department of Defense identification will have to show a second form of federally acceptable identification, primarily a passport, to gain entry to installations such as Fort Jackson in Columbia and Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter.
And in January 2018, S.C. driver’s licenses would no longer be accepted to board a plane or a secured federal building like the the Matthew Perry Federal Courthouse in Columbia.
“It needs to be addressed,” said Col. Daniel Lasica, commander of the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw. “It affects everything from food delivery to major contractors.”
In a letter Nov. 16, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, asked U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to push back a deadline for South Carolina to comply with the Real ID Act of 2005.
Department of Homeland Security officials will be in Columbia on Monday to meet with state officials about the issue.
The law requires states to make driver’s licenses more secure from terrorists.
Congress passed the Real ID Act in reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, terorist attacks. The terrorists who carried out those attacks used driver’s licenses issued in Florida and Virginia as identification to board airplanes that they crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
The idea behind the law was that secure, modern identification should be consistent across the country, and it should be linked to the data that the individual used to get the driver’s license.
However. several states, including South Carolina, passed laws prohibiting Department of Motor Vehicle officials from complying with the Real ID requirements. The thought was that the federal government was overstepping its authority by requiring what the states considered to be a national identification card, and because it would lengthen lines at the DMV, said Kevin Shwedo, executive director of South Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
Monday’s meeting with McMaster and the commanders was held under the auspices of the governor’s S.C. Military Base Task Force, which is charged with protecting and expanding missions at the state’s six major military installations.
After the meeting, Shwedo said he has secured five years worth of extensions by convincing homeland security officials that he has instituted comparable rather than compliant security features on the driver’s licenses, including holograms and bar codes. That has satisfied federal officials up until now, he said, adding that in some cases, the state features exceed federal standards.
“I haven’t broken the law, but I have walked right up to the line and looked over it,” he said.
Now, federal officials are becoming more insistent that states comply with the rules, despite the efforts of their legislatures to skirt them.
But simply adopting the requirements is much more complicated than it might seem, he said. For instance, federal law requires a birth certificate, Social Security card, proof of address and proof of name change — such as a marriage license — to receive a driver’s license or state ID.
But if everyone who received their license before 2010 – when the state began requiring those items – needed replacements, it would cause logistical nightmares and be hugely expensive. Shwedo estimated $72 million.
So far, all but 17 states have adopted the federal requirements. Initially, estimates were that it would cost states $17 billion to reissue drivers’ licenses and create databases for the estimated 214 million U.S. drivers.
Since October 2010, South Carolina has issued driver’s licenses that meet or exceed the new federal standard. The problem is the new licenses aren’t hooked into a digital database that also meets the standards.
That makes them illegal to accept.
Brig. Gen. George Goldsmith, Columbia’s representative on the military base task force, said the issue must be addressed before the Jan. 30 deadline.
“We need security,” he said. “But we don’t need to go overboard.”