COLUMBIA, S.C. – With a deadline looming for states to seek extensions on complying with stricter driver's license requirements, South Carolina lawmakers urged the governor Thursday to ask for one so residents won't be hampered when boarding airplanes or entering federal buildings.
South Carolina, Maine and Montana are the only states that have not sought extensions or moved toward compliance with the Real ID law, which was passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has argued that standards need to be raised for obtaining government-issued IDs. Driver's licenses compliant with Real ID would have several layers of new security features to prevent forgery. They would also be issued after a number of identity checks, including verification of birth certificates.
Other states have balked at implementing the requirements, saying they are costly, impractical and an invasion of privacy. Six, including South Carolina, have passed measures saying they won't comply, the most extreme stances among more than two dozen states that have complained.
Chertoff has warned that any state that does not seek an extension by the end of March will find that, come May, their residents will not be able to use their licenses to board domestic flights. Federal authorities hope all states will be in compliance with the law in 2011.
Proponents said that the South Carolina resolution was an effort to buy time to review the federal law, but that legislators still oppose it.
"We're not just simply thumbing our nose at the federal government," said state Sen. Larry Martin, a Republican. "The black letter of the law is we will not comply with Real ID."
Meanwhile Thursday, Chertoff held a conference call with six governors tapped by the National Governors Association to talk about the law. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, along with the governors of Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania, took part in the call, said Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa.
"We're pleased that states continue to work with us toward implementation and this will be an ongoing dialogue," she said.
Sanford spokesman Joel Sawyer said that the governor is considering the extension application and that the March 31 deadline wasn't mentioned during the phone call. The governors used the call to talk to Chertoff about concerns with Real ID, including costs, he said.
South Carolina estimates that it will have to pay $16 million to implement the identification program in 2010 and then $10 million yearly afterward. Sanford has railed against the prospect of requiring residents to shell out $60 for driver's licenses that last eight years when they now pay $25 for one lasting 10.
His office says that requiring birth certificates to be scanned before licenses can be issued will snarl motor vehicle offices and that a three-week wait for people to get licenses is unacceptable.
Kudwa said estimated costs of complying with the program have come down by 73 percent to $3.9 billion and that the added cost for a driver's license should be about $8. Meanwhile, the agency is offering about $380 million in grants for states to comply.
New Hampshire has asked for a compliance extension but told Homeland Security it won't comply with the Real ID law. That doesn't square with the agency's view of those requests.
"An extension request is not an extension simply for more time, it's an extension to move toward compliance. So it needs to be a good-faith request for extension," Kudwa said.
Citizens from states that don't get extensions will have to show passports or federal IDs to board planes or enter federal buildings to avoid the hassle of more rigorous security screening.
Last year, Sanford sought and won a state law that bars South Carolina from complying with the federal law. Five other states passed similar laws: Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington.
Given Homeland Security's interpretation, signing an extension would mean Sanford, a Republican long on libertarian leanings, would be breaking the law he sought and signed, Sawyer said. Others are in similar positions.
"If it does come to a head, we've found it is best just to tell them to go to hell, and run your state the way you want to run your state," Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, said last week.
Maine Gov. John Baldacci, also a Democrat, said he plans to respond by the March 31 deadline. His staff on Thursday continued to review the waiver language to determine the best way to respond to Homeland Security, but his press office said that doesn't mean the state will seek an extension. Baldacci has said he does not want Mainers inconvenienced because of insufficient credentials.