Gov. Henry McMaster has signed a law allowing South Carolinians to obtain a driver’s license that meets federal identification requirements for boarding a plane or entering a military base.
The law, passed 100-3 in the House and 40-0 in the Senate, reverses a decade-old law forbidding the state from complying with the federal REAL ID Act, which Congress passed in reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Lawmakers decided looming deadlines that affect residents’ ability to work and travel mattered more than old arguments about federal overreach and privacy.
But the new ID remains an option – not a mandate. It won’t be needed to drive, vote or access benefits such as Social Security.
“If you do not think you’ll be boarding a plane or visiting a federal facility, you may decide you don’t want one,” said Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman Lauren Phillips.
Regardless, she stresses there’s no need for the state’s 3.5 million drivers to rush to a DMV office. The new licenses won’t even be available for at least six months. An exact date depends on how quickly the agency completes technology changes and printing tests.
A June 6 deadline no longer looms, according to the DMV. Homeland Security has not responded to questions.
Following McMaster’s April 5 signature, the federal agency granted South Carolina another extension from REAL ID enforcement. The latest deferment allows military bases and other federal facilities to accept South Carolina’s existing licenses through October, Phillips said.
For now, Jan. 22, 2018, remains the start date for needing additional ID – such as a passport, military ID or “trusted traveler” card from Homeland Security – to travel by plane. However, state officials are working toward a reprieve on that date, too.
In the coming months, the DMV expects to send Homeland Security documentation it needs to certify South Carolina as fully compliant. That “green light” would give South Carolinians until October 2020 to get a REAL ID license to show at airports or military bases, Phillips said.
“Once we’re certified as compliant, all dates are voided until 2020,” she said. “So your current license will work until 2020.”
Getting a REAL ID license will require paying the $25 license renewal fee and proving you’re legally in the United States.
Doing so involves presenting a birth certificate – original, not scanned – an accepted document with a Social Security number and two proofs of residency. The long list of what’s accepted includes a utility bill, tax form, bank statement or even a postmarked “letter from grandma,” Phillips said.
All name changes since birth also must be supported by legal documents, such as a marriage license, court order or divorce decree.
Phillips said the process should be easy for the state’s 900,000 newest drivers. DMV offices started scanning the required documents for first-time licensees in November 2010. They won’t have to gather their documents again.
The REAL ID-compliant license will expire after eight years, instead of 10.
It will look like the state’s existing one, except with a gold emblem in the corner.
HOW MUCH IS THIS COSTING THE STATE?
The law allows the DMV to spend $1.7 million from reserves over the next few months on equipment and education campaigns.
Issuing the licenses is expected to cost $14 million in 2017-18 and $5 million in each of the next two fiscal years, depending on how many additional employees are needed to prevent long lines at the state’s 67 DMV offices.
Hiring will begin later this year, Phillips said.
Once the licenses become available, she advises checking the agency’s website for wait times before driving to the DMV.