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Originally states were supposed to comply with the Real ID law by the end of 2009. Federal authorities have repeatedly pushed back the deadline to give states time to change their procedures and update technology. The deadline for all states to comply is now 2020.

by Christian M. Wade, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass. / May 6, 2016
A map of state compliance with the REAL ID Act as of November 2, 2015. Wikicommons

(TNS) -- BOSTON – Getting past airport security or inside a federal building may require a U.S. passport unless the Legislature moves ahead to create a federally compliant state driver's license.

The 2005 Real ID Act forces states to impose tougher requirements for proof of legal residency before issuing licenses. The law addressed national security concerns raised after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Gov. Charlie Baker filed a bill last year to bring Massachusetts driver’s licenses and ID cards into compliance. But lawmakers have yet to act on his proposal. Two weeks ago, the state House tacked a similar provision onto the upcoming state budget.

Efforts to comply with the federal rules have found pushback from immigrant advocates and civil liberties groups that call the changes costly, unnecessary and a violation of privacy.

New licenses, which would be marked with a yellow star, would require applicants to show proof of citizenship or lawful status in the country. Currently, new applicants for a state driver's license only need present a Social Security card and proof of residency such as tax forms or bills.

By comparison, applicants for Real ID-compliant licenses must submit a birth certificate, evidence of U.S. legal status and other proof of identity.

Immigrant advocates criticize Baker's bill for relying on the federal definition of lawful status. It could deny some legal residents driver's licenses or ID cards, said Amy Grunder, legislative director for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

Last October, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave the state a one-year extension to comply with the act.

Baker has warned lawmakers that getting another extension this October requires the state to show progress toward compliance, and that means legislative action.

"If we don't do anything ... it would be likely that people would have to start bringing their passport to go to federal buildings or an airport, which we'd really like to avoid," he said last month.

A legislative committee held a hearing in December, and House and Senate leaders gave the committee an extension to act until this week. But nothing has happened.

The state has more than 4.3 million licensed drivers, according to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Originally states were supposed to comply with the Real ID law by the end of 2009. Federal authorities have repeatedly pushed back the deadline to give states time to change their procedures and update technology. The deadline for all states to comply is now 2020.

More than 20 states, including Connecticut and Vermont, and the District of Columbia have met the standards, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Massachusetts is one of 23 states with extensions that allow existing licenses to continue to be used.

New Hampshire has a waiver that expires in June unless lawmakers there pass legislation allowing for a federally compliant license, at which time the waiver will be extended until a five-year license renewal cycle is complete.

Lawmakers in some states, including Missouri and Minnesota, have passed laws specifically prohibiting them from complying with the Real ID law.

Civil liberties groups say the law would turn state driver’s licenses and ID cards into a national identity card, cost billions of dollars to implement and unfairly burden applicants – while doing nothing to protect against terrorism.

"There is no proof that more burdensome and stringent identification requirements prevent terrorism," said Laura Rotolo, an attorney and community advocate at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. "Even where a person is known to be a threat, determined terrorists will always be able to obtain fraudulent documents."

Rotolo said issuing federally-approved ID will cost the state and its residents millions of dollars.

"This is money that could be spent on schools, housing, fixing our ailing public transit system, major infrastructure repairs, and other things that Massachusetts urgently needs," she said.

©2016 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.