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Crisis averted.

Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a bill that will prepare Pennsylvania to become compliant with federal ID law and allow citizens with state-issued driver’s licenses to continue using them for boarding flights.

The state had faced a deadline of June 6 for complying with the order, known as the REAL ID Act. Had the legislature and Wolf not agreed on a bill, Pennsylvania ID would have no longer been valid for flights and getting into certain federal buildings starting next year.

“Senate Bill 133 will allow PennDOT, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work closely ensure that when Pennsylvanians travel to the airport or need to visit federal facilities, they are able to move safely and freely, and without disruption,” Wolf said in a statement. “I want to thank our partners in the legislature — especially Senator Kim Ward, Representative Ed Neilson, and Representative Matt Bradford — for their hard work in getting this important piece of legislation to my desk.”

Earlier this week he Senate voted 49-1 to pass SB 133, sending it on to the House, which passed it 190-1 on Wednesday.

The push for REAL ID, a federal requirement enacted to improve the security of state-issued identification and cut back on fraud, had been a years-long saga in Pennsylvania. Back in 2012, both Republicans and Democrats here were vehemently against complying with the REAL ID Act, which had been created by the federal government in 2005. With only five “no” votes among the two chambers, the Pa. Legislature passed a 2012 bill that actually prohibited the state from complying. It was seen back then as an federal overreach that would cost close to $100 million to introduce and $40 million annually to maintain.

“The goal [of that 2012 bill] was to say Pennsylvania is doing a great job in its data collection,” State Sen. Mike Folmer (R-48) said earlier this year. “I tried to fight the Feds, but the Feds won.”

Philly Rep. Ed Neilson (D-174) and State Sen. Kim Ward (R-39) each introduced bills intending to repeal and replace the 2012 REAL ID prohibition. Ward’s ended up going the distance, and the final version passed yesterday by the Senate includes an option for residents to opt out. Basically, people will have the choice to obtain a regular driver’s license or get a REAL ID-compliant one. The REAL ID license is likely to be more expensive, but residents would not be able to board flights with the other version; they would need a passport.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman told the Morning Call adding the choice would prevent Pennsylvanians from feeling like the government’s “tentacles” were wrapped around them. Neilson noted that the Pennsylvania DMV will need to properly educate residents on the concepts surrounding REAL ID, so they can make responsible decisions when their licenses are up for renewal.

“I believe there are millions of people out there who don’t know what this is and what it means to them,” Neilson said.

Brian Zimmer, president of Keeping Identities Safe/Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, said the bill’s wording that would cause the state to actually call the federally-accepted license a “REAL ID” will provide better clarity for Pennsylvanians.

“It’s going to make it that much easier for the public to make an informed choice,” said Zimmer, who recommended Pennsylvania follow other states, such as South Carolina, to expedite the process of becoming compliant.

Neilson is mostly happy with the bill, except for a portion that prevents revenue raised via regular driver’s license fees from being used to subsidize the cost of REAL ID. Experts aren’t sure exactly how much REAL ID would cost to implement or how much individual licenses would cost Pennsylvanians. However, if many choose to stick with regular licenses, the cost for REAL ID licenses could escalate.

Recently, he helped his wife and mother-in-law set up travel plans for an emergency visit to another relative. They had to leave immediately, and his mother-in-law doesn’t have a passport.

“I never would’ve been able to get her there,” he said. “That’s why everybody should comply. It’s something where you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

How REAL ID will affect you

Even if this bill passes and Gov. Wolf signs it, it will likely take at least a year or two for Pennsylvania to become REAL ID compliant. But when it happens, here’s how you’dbe affected:

  • You’ll have to go to the DMV at least once: Yep, sorry. The REAL ID Act requires each person with a driver’s license update to a REAL ID compliant license by October 2020. The convenience of renewing online — as you can do now in Pennsylvania — will not be allowed for this first renewal.
  • You could deal with longer lines: When Pennsylvania becomes REAL ID compliant, it could easily follow the course of other states and reduce its number of driver’s license issuing centers to reduce costs. That could conceivably mean longer wait times, unless each given center becomes more efficient.

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...