LOS ANGELES - Newly obtained documents reveal that California state officials are concerned that federal legislation called the Real ID Act will require extensive changes to existing practices at the California Department of Motor Vehicles, and will carry heavy expenses that will have to be absorbed by California taxpayers and license applicants.
The Act, passed by Congress last spring, imposes federal regulations on the design, issuance and management of state driver's licenses - turning them, for all practical purposes, into federal identity papers.
"Civil liberties groups, conservative groups, anti-immigration groups - we've all been saying that Real ID will be a real disaster and needs to be revisited by Congress," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "As the survey of people actually charged with carrying out REAL ID indicates, this ill-conceived legislation is totally impractical and not realistic."
The documents are part of a national survey of state motor vehicle officials' views and preparation for complying with Real ID that was conducted by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). The documents were first reported by the Associated Press. A copy of California's response to the survey was obtained by the ACLU.
"California officials are right to be concerned," said Valerie Small-Navarro, legislative advocate for the ACLU of Southern California. "Real ID not only means a national ID, but it will mean higher taxes and fees, longer lines, repeat visits to the California DMV, bureaucratic snafus, and, for a lot of people, the inability to obtain a license. But most important, the security it promises is illusory.
"Fortunately, the opposition to this bill is growing more broad as people figure out what it would do and what it would cost and that it will not make us safer. There is a very good chance that we can force Congress to take it up again," Small-Navarro said.
In the survey, California officials wrote that they saw major impacts to the state and its people for each of the following requirements of the Real ID Act:
' Verify and authenticate birth certificates and other required documents including proof of principal place of residence with the issuing entity. California's officials asked "How will we verify all identity/source documents when no national system currently exists to support this type of effort?"
' Capture and digitally store in a transferable format the images of birth certificates and other identity and source documents. The DMV states that this requirement, among other things, necessitates new equipment, major programming, and database development for at least 25 million records.
' Limit the period of validity of driver's licenses and ID cards that are not temporary to a maximum of eight years. The DMV notes that Senior ID cards are currently issued for 10 years, and this change requires that these applicants appear more often at the DMV.
In addition, there were many areas where the DMV thought the Real ID requirement would have an unknown impact because the federal regulations have not been issued. For example, the DMV asks whether the Real ID Act requirements are "day forward," meaning, must all California drivers have a new Real ID-compliant driver's license by May 2008?
The DMV also asks, "Will existing cardholders be required to provide an identity/source document to re-verify their identity at the time of every renewal?" and "What will be the requirements to allow for a renewal by mail or renewal by Internet program? Finally, the DMV states that the impact is unknown for the requirement that provides electronic access to all other states to information contained in the motor vehicle database.
"Congress needs to do this right and actually hold hearings, listen to all the different interests and real-world practical difficulties, and give it an up-or-down vote, none of which happened when it was rammed through last spring," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the national ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project. "Californians need to join with others around the country and help block this disastrous law before it's too late."
California's response to the AAMVA survey along with other documents is online at www.realnightmare.org.