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Real ID, real problems: States cope with changing rules, late rollouts

Elaine S. Povich, on

Published in Home and Consumer News

In notices to Maryland divers, the state threatened that failing to meet the new requirements would "result in a recall of your Maryland driver's license or identification card." Many residents scrambled to comply.

California, with more than 26 million drivers, faced a similar problem. California DMV spokesman Jaime Garza also blamed changing DHS standards for creating the mess.

"The US Department of Homeland Security unexpectedly changed its originally approved method by which the CA DMV collected two proofs of residency," Garza wrote in an email. "CA had followed the same DHS approved method that the state of Wisconsin was using to collect two proofs residency."

The approved Wisconsin procedure would have allowed residents to respond to a letter from the DMV with a "return receipt requested" designation, sending in one proof of residency, with the mailing itself counting as the second proof. Garza provided Stateline with a 2017 letter from DHS official Steve Yonkers, director of the Real ID program, to the Wisconsin DMV approving that process. California based its procedure on the Wisconsin procedure, with DHS's approval, Garza said. But Wisconsin ultimately went with in-person applications.

But a DHS letter to California in November 2018 reversed that directive, Garza said, saying the process "does not comply" with the Real ID law. That threw the state into a tizzy, he said.

Now, California is sending letters to all residents who provided only one proof of residency, asking them to sign, date and return the letter in a prepaid envelope as a second proof that was not required the first time. Unlike Maryland, California is not requiring drivers to make a return trip to the DMV. "The goal was to make this process as easy and convenient as possible for Californians," Garza said, noting that it affects 3.6 million Californians holding Real IDs.


But the state has had a big increase in residents crowding into DMVs because of the confusion. Like Maryland, Garza said, California has increased office hours and hired 2,000 additional employees.

Some states are lagging in issuing Real IDs in part because they fought the idea from the beginning. Seventeen states passed laws restricting or banning its implementation.

Those states get little sympathy from Republican U.S. Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, author of the 2005 law.

"The Real ID Act was a key recommendation of the 9-11 Commission to protect Americans from another devastating act of terrorism," he said in an email. "States have had more than 14 years to comply with the law, and the Department of Homeland Security has provided additional funding to help along the way."


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