Real ID Act could cause headaches for LA travelers

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Walking up to the TSA checkpoint in the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, there is a sign that reads "3 Simple Steps to Security" which explains to passengers about getting their ID ready, removing liquids, and taking off their shoes.

However, a new federal law could make step one, showing your ID, a little trickier for Louisiana residents.

"If nothing changes then a passport is required and travelers will have to get a passport to travel on that day and beyond," said Baton Rouge Metro Airport representative Jim Caldwell.

The day Caldwell is referring to is January 15, the day the Real ID Act goes into effect.  The federal law creates federal standards for the state identification process, including putting a seal of approval on the driver's license to make it apparent that it is in compliance.  Other stipulations of the Real ID Act include sharing the ID information in a kind of national data base.

The law was passed with the hopes of making IDs more secure, but Louisiana law makers disagreed.

Louisiana is one of seven states that passed a law prohibiting its agencies from implementing the Real ID Act.

"Your driver's license would essentially become an ID number that could be swiped and scanned on either a federal building, bank, getting on or boarding an airplane," said Representative Brett Geymann who co-sponsored Louisiana's bill.  "We were very concerned about identity theft, the privacy, who was going to be capturing the data and who would have their hands on that information that would be very personal."

Officials with the Office of Motor Vehicles say Louisiana licenses are secure, and will meet most of the federal standards by October, nine months after the law goes into effect.  OMV has sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, which is the agency that will enforce the Real ID Act, explaining its plans to bring the ID process up to speed.  The letter also explains that state law prevents the OMV from completely implementing the Real ID requirements.

Officials are hopeful that will be enough to satisfy the feds.  OMV officials say they have not gotten a response from the DHS. Until then, it's a waiting game to find out if the state will be considered compliant or not.

Airport officials say it's a frustrating situation for frequent travelers who are unsure if their license will be accepted after January 15.

"We obviously would like to know for certain whether or not the law, as it stands today, would be applied," said Caldwell.

Meanwhile, Caldwell says the airport is trying to get the word out about the potential changes to passengers.

"The most prudent thing would be to pursue a passport for those who anticipate traveling after that point next year," said Caldwell. Air travel is not the only thing that would be affected by the Real ID Act.  The law would require a compliant ID to access any federal facility or nuclear plant as well.

The Real ID Act was passed in 2005, although several extensions were granted.  The Louisiana law rejecting the measure was passed in 2008.

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