Planning a trip to a military base to celebrate your child’s graduation from training? Do you have business to conduct at a federal building or other federal facility?
In a few months, your driver’s license might not be good enough to get you through the gate.
And in a year, it may no longer be good enough to get you on an airplane.
Disagreements between Harrisburg and the federal government over state-issued identification cards have left the state’s residents, including those in the River Wards, vulnerable to inconvenience.
At the heart of the problem is the Real ID Act.
In the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in the nation’s history, the 9/11 Commission recommended implementing new nationwide standards for state-issued forms of identification, such as driver’s licenses and non-driver’s identification cards. The goal was to make it more difficult for foreign-born terrorists to take advantage of asylum and immigration laws to secure identification that would give them access to federal facilities and commercial aircraft.
Building on those recommendation, in 2005 the federal government passed the Real ID Act, which included national standards for what information would be stored on state-issued identification cards, what documents would be necessary to obtain them, and how much of that information would be shared through nationwide databases.
The law was has not been without opposition, however.
Some see the Real ID Act as the federal government encroaching on activities that should be left to the states. The very concept of a national identification card has long been controversial, and to some, this law seems like a backdoor attempt to implement such a program.
Privacy advocates worry about the increased amount of information that will be stored and shared via databases, which could be hacked, leaving citizens vulnerable to identity theft.
Others worry about the cost, inconvenience, and disruption of issuing new identification cards to millions of people.
In Pennsylvania, this opposition led to the passage of Act 38 of 2012, a law that expressly forbids the governor and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation from participating in the Real ID program.
“Part of it was a conceptual thing, meaning the federal government would not be dictating to us how we do our types of identification, especially for driver’s licenses,” said Marc Collazzo, Bridesburg district office manager for State Rep. John Taylor. “There’s certainly an issue regarding the information that would be turned over to the federal government as a result of getting a driver’s license.”
That wasn’t a problem until the first major deadline came into sight.
As of Jan. 30, non-compliant identification cards were supposed to be insufficient to gain access to federal facilities. Gov. Tom Wolf, and the Pennsylvania Senate and House all requested an extension, which was granted. The new deadline is June 6.
However, it would be impossible for Pennsylvania to implement all of the changes required by the Real ID Act and issue new identification cards by that deadline.
“They’re probably going to need another extension come June, and they think that will be granted as well,” Collazzo said. They’re going to have to try to solve this problem once and for all.”
If the state and federal governments can’t work out a solution by the deadline, then Pennsylvania residents will need some other form of federal identification to enter federal facilities.
And, if the disagreement continues through to the beginning of next year, Pennsylvania residents will need an alternate method of identification to fly.
Although other forms of identification, like military ID cards, will be valid, Collazzo said that passports are the most realistic option for most residents.
“If you’re going to have to be able to get on federal facilities –military bases, nuclear power plants— and most importantly be able get on an airplane, you’re going to need a passport,” Collazzo said. “In order to get a passport, you’re going to need a valid birth certificate, which we call in Pennsylvania the long-form birth certificate. It’s got the seal on it. It’s got both of your parents on it.”
What complicates the issue is that some residents don’t have copies of their birth certificates, and others, especially older Pennsylvanians, may not have an up-to-date copies with all of the necessary information.
Although it’s possible to apply for a new birth certificate online, Rep. Taylor’s office can help residents in his district with the process.
“They can come in here, we will help them complete all the necessary paperwork and we will send the completed forms and whatever filing fees up to the departments directly, so that as quick as they can be turned around they can get them,” Collazzo said. “Going through our office will usually be a little quicker, but also we can make sure that everything the state needs the constituent has and has provided.”
The process is not instant, however. It can take two to three weeks, and then obtaining a passport can take as long as six weeks. According to Collazzo, it might not be a bad idea to plan ahead.
“While this is certainly a pressing issue, and certainly it’s something we’re dealing with and want people to be aware of, the crunch isn’t here yet, because ultimately, we don’t have a solution,” he said. “But we want people to know this, especially if they need a birth certificate or they don’t think they have it, it’s always good to get it now, because it’s going to come up.”
Rep. John Taylor has two offices in the River Wards: 2901 E. Thompson St., 215- 425-0901; and 4725-27 Richmond St., 215-744-2600. All offices are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments for birth certificate applications aren’t necessary. The application fee is $20, but can be waived for current military personnel and veterans.