S.C. lawmakers have learned complying with the federal Real ID law, which they have defied for nearly a decade, could cost as much as $93 million.
That’s the amount Kevin Shwedo, executive director of the S.C. Department of Motor Vehicles, estimates is needed to provide 4.5 million South Carolinians who have driver’s licenses or state-issued identification cards with an ID card that meets federal regulations.
In a recent meeting with the Senate Transportation Committee, Shwedo said he might be able to trim the cost to $26.5 million, assuming most South Carolinians won’t have an immediate need for a Real ID-compliant card.
Shwedo said the cost would cover issuance of driver’s licenses and state-issued ID cards by Sept. 30, 2020, the absolute deadline the federal government has set for South Carolina to comply with the law.
Passed by Congress in 2005, the Real ID law enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the federal government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.”
The 9/11 Commission found that 18 of the 19 hijackers who crashed passenger planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field had obtained 30 state-issued IDs, enabling them to more easily board planes on the morning of the terrorist attacks. Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks.
S.C. legislators, however, passed a law in 2007 saying South Carolina “shall not participate in the implementation of the federal Real ID Act.” Proponents of the measure, led by former Gov. Mark Sanford, argued that the Real ID law required too much personal information and would lead to the federal government's issuing ID cards instead of the states.
Despite the state’s defiance, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted South Carolina five extensions. But that ended last year when South Carolina learned that state-issued driver’s licenses and personal ID cards would not be an accepted form of ID as of Jan. 22.
The ban threatened to hinder companies that have workers entering military bases and other secured federal facilities. Commanders complained at the December meeting of the S.C. Military Base Task Force, according to a report in The State newspaper.
In early January, Homeland Security granted South Carolina and five other states an extension until June 6. But there was a hook: The General Assembly has to pass a law saying the state intends to comply with Real ID.
Bills to put South Carolina on the road to compliance have been introduced in both the Senate and House, and legislators believe something will be passed.
If there isn’t a law, starting in January 2018 South Carolinians must come up with a form of identification that has been approved by the federal government, such as a passport or military ID card, to enter Fort Jackson, board a plane at Columbia Metropolitan Airport, or visit the Social Security office.
Shwedo said the state already meets 38 of the 44 standards required by Real ID.
“We’re doing most of everything they’re asking us to do,” said Sen. Larry Grooms, chairman of the Transportation Committee. “We do have disagreements over some of the methodology and some of the bookkeeping, which has nothing to do with the security of the credential.”
Another problem South Carolinians might face is dealing with long lines at the state’s 67 DMV offices, Shwedo said.
Every state that has implemented Real ID has reported that wait times have climbed for at least three months to an average of 6 1/2 hours, Shwedo said.
Shwedo said he’d like to use $1 million for advertising the ID card and urging residents to check ahead on the DMV’s website to see how long of a wait they might encounter at the local office.
Provided the Legislature passes the law, Shwedo said he will need another extension from Homeland Security that would be good until Sept. 30, 2020, saying DMV could issue the first Real ID-compliant card no earlier than Oct. 1.
Grooms, R-Charleston, said “it’s mind-boggling” that to replace all state-issued ID cards would cost nearly $100 million and create lengthy waits at DMV offices.
“What we don’t want is to put our folks at a disadvantage,” Grooms said.
This story originally appeared in the Feb. 13, 2017, print edition of the Columbia Regional Business Report.