Arizona House revives REAL ID proposal

PHOENIX - Arizona lawmakers on Thursday revived an effort to bring the state into compliance with federal security rules for driver's licenses that threaten to keep residents from boarding airplanes starting next year unless state law is changed.

However, the future of the legislation remains unclear because of how it's drafted.

Federal facilities have begun implementing rules for more secure identification documents required under the 2005 REAL ID Act, and airports could begin requiring the documents as early as next year.

Arizona's driver's licenses and identification cards currently don't meet the federal rules, which require states to ensure the applicant's identity and citizenship when they issue the documents. The Legislature passed a law in 2008 that was signed by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano that barred the state from participating in the program.

Republican lawmakers were concerned about the costs created by the federal law and repelled by the impact on privacy caused by its shared database requirements.

Napolitano, a Democrat, called REAL ID an unfunded federal mandate when she signed the legislation.

Seven years later, Arizona still doesn't participate, one of just seven states not fully in compliance.

That's a big problem, said state Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, who is sponsoring a bill to give Arizonans the option of getting a REAL ID-compliant license.

Testifying during a House Appropriations Committee meeting on Thursday, Worsley said Arizonans are already being turned away from some federal facilities and the problem could get worse when the Transportation Security Agency begins requiring compliant IDs at airports.

"We're going to be asked to bring passports to travel domestically, which I think is unacceptable," Worsley said.

The Homeland Security Department hasn't set a firm date for implementing the new security rules at airports, saying only that it will begin no sooner than 2016. The agency has issued waivers for years to other states that are implementing REAL ID, and whether it implements the new plans is uncertain.

Also, the TSA already makes provisions for people who lack proper travel documents at airports, routinely checking other documents and allowing travelers to proceed.

The proposal by Worsley requires Arizona to apply for a waiver, which he predicted would be swiftly rejected because Arizona bans REAL ID compliance. If that rejection occurs and the bill by Worsley is in effect, Arizona can begin issuing the licenses.

Worsley's proposal was tacked onto a much-larger bill that implements several modernizations of the Arizona Department of Transportation.

But in what some lawmakers saw as a potential poison pill for the bill, it was combined with a proposal that would remove nearly all penalties for driving up to 10 mph over the speed limit. That plan had stalled in the Senate.

Tickets for such offenses would not count against a driver's records - a problem for insurance companies - and carry a $15 fine.

The House passed Stevens' bill early this month, but it stalled in the Senate. Stevens added it back into the ADOT bill on Thursday and coupled it with Worsley's proposal.

"It's too bad it's in an amendment that is really good, has a really good component to it." said Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale.

Stevens pushed back, saying his proposal got 40 of 60 votes in the House, deserved another shot and wasn't jeopardizing the broader proposal.

That didn't mollify Rep. Eric Meyer, the Democratic House leader.

"This bill should be a stand-alone bill," Meyer said.