Douglas Administration considers not complying with REAL ID program

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(Host) The Douglas Administration is seriously considering a decision not to comply with the federal REAL ID driver’s license program.

Motor Vehicles Commissioner Bonnie Rutledge says the cost of implementing the plan in Vermont has increased from roughly $2 million to over $8.5 million dollars.

She’s also concerned that several states in the region have rejected the program.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) New Hampshire this week became the 6th state in the country to officially opt out of the REAL ID program.

The law was passed after the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 as a way to standardize the verification of individual state driver licenses throughout the country.

The plan will require all current drivers to visit a motor vehicle office with a birth certificate, their Social Security information and perhaps a passport. They will then be issued the so called REAL ID photo license.

The Bush Administration wants to implement the program next Spring. But it’s likely that Vermont and many other states will seek a 6 month delay pushing the date back to January 1st 2009.

Motor Vehicle Commissioner Bonnie Rutledge says Vermont officials are thinking about opting out of the program because it’s going to cost the state a lot of money to comply with this federal law.

(Rutledge) “When we originally estimated, we estimated about two million dollars and we based that just on the law itself. But when the rules came out and we saw everything we were going to have to do to comply with the proposed rule, the costs went up to about eight and a half million dollars. Now that changes the picture in my mind a whole lot.”

(Kinzel) Rutledge says the basic premise of the REAL ID program will be undermined if more states choose not to comply with the plan. In the northeast, New Hampshire and Maine have already voted not to participate in the program:

(Rutledge) “There is a growing list of states that have opted not to do the REAL ID. And from my point of view, if that list continues to grow, I mean even if two states opt not to do it, it loses some of its effectiveness. Because from a DMV perspective, the benefits for us of REAL ID is knowing that every state is going through the same process before they issue a license. So when I accept a license from another state, I know they will have done the same thing. And if all the states don’t do that then it loses some of the benefit for the DMV.”

(Kinzel) What will happen if Vermont joins the list of states opting out of REAL ID?

Rutledge says the federal government is threatening not to recognize a photo license from these states for all official identification purposes.

(Rutledge) “The way it reads, it’s a mandate on the federal government not to accept a state’s drivers license if it is not REAL ID compliant – accept it for things like entering federal buildings for boarding airplanes and that sort of thing. So the way it actually reads, it’s a mandate for the federal government. But it’s sort of a backhanded mandate to the states.”

(Kinzel) Rutledge says federal officials plan to issue a new set of rules governing the REAL ID program at the end of the summer.

She says that will be a good time for Vermont officials to make a final decision whether or not to comply with the law.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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