Will Illinois hit new date to toughen driver's licenses?

  • Illinois has some work to do to meet federal Real ID guidelines in two years.

    Illinois has some work to do to meet federal Real ID guidelines in two years. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Posted1/18/2016 5:45 AM

Though Illinois officials now have until 2018 to ensure residents won't need a passport to board domestic flights, it's unclear the state will be able to make that deadline after missing others.

Federal officials said recently that even though Illinois isn't complying with the REAL ID Act adopted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, they won't fully crack down quite yet.

 

"Over the next two years, those states that are not REAL ID compliant are strongly encouraged to meet the requirements of the law for the benefit of their residents," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson said.

Last month, the department announced Illinois was one of a few states nationwide that wouldn't get an extension to get its driver's licenses up to date. That led to speculation Illinois residents would need more than a driver's license to board a plane.

"We had a bit of a scare, I think," said state Rep. Mike Fortner, a West Chicago Republican.

The Department of Homeland Security recently said Illinois residents can board planes using the current driver's licenses until Jan. 22, 2018.

But despite the reprieve, meeting the guidelines by 2018 might not be easy.

Secretary of State Jesse White's office says Illinois complies with most of the Real ID act requirements, but needs changes to state law to reach full compliance. That means getting lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner to agree to it.

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Rauner said he'd start to talk to White about the issue.

Under REAL ID, Illinois would need to require an applicant for a driver's license to submit a birth certificate or passport that can be scanned into a centralized database.

Setting that up could cost as much as $60 million, White spokesman Henry Haupt said, a sum that could be hard to find at a time when Illinois has operated without a spending plan since last summer.

"We shouldn't spend a penny on that now," said state Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican.

Fortner argues database upgrades could save Illinois money in the long run. And, he argues, Illinois needs to make sure its residents can fly.

"Whether we like the REAL ID act or not, it's the federal law," Fortner said.

Illinois' delinquency could keep state residents out of some federal buildings without a passport, but not others. A spokesman for Fermilab, for example, said the general public won't see any difference in access with an Illinois license. But in western Illinois, an Illinois driver's license won't be enough for access to the Rock Island Arsenal without an escort beginning Monday.

Last year, state Sen. Iris Marinez, a Chicago Democrat, proposed legislation that would get Illinois in line with federal requests. It got a hearing, but no vote.

She echoes the money concerns and argues the federal government should help pay for REAL ID's requirements because it's Congress that came up with the idea.

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