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Missourians Should Be Able to Choose a Driver’s License that Complies with REAL ID

Missouri State Representative Kevin Corlew represents Missouri House district 14. Most of Representative Corlew’s district is in Platte County, but a small portion of it extends into Clay County. For more information on our Opinion Section and why we publish press releases like this one from elected officials please click here.

The Missouri General Assembly is considering legislation that would give Missourians the ability to choose a state-issued driver’s license that complies with the federal REAL ID Act.

In 2005, the U.S. Congress unanimously passed the REAL ID Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The 9/11 Commission’s report had recommended that security procedures be enhanced to prevent terrorists from obtaining state-issued identifications and to increase the reliability of documents people use to prove that they are who they say they are.  The Commission found that the nineteen hijackers on 9/11 had possessed more than 30 state-issued identifications. “For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons,” the Commission noted. 

A 2012 report by the Heritage Foundation observed that states that had complied with the REAL ID standards reported increased security and found that their state licenses were no longer exploited for fraud and abuse.  In Missouri, a law passed in 2009 prohibits the state from complying with the federal act. Missouri is now one of just 5 states that isn’t moving toward compliance with the REAL ID security measures.

Could Missouri’s lax standards for state-issued identifications cause the state to become a magnet for those who can’t get identifications in other states?

Evidence suggests it already has. In 2013, a St. Joseph woman pleaded guilty in federal court to her role in a conspiracy to provide fake source documents, including birth certificates and social security cards, so that more than 100 illegal immigrants could fraudulently obtain driver’s licenses and identification cards from a license office in St. Joseph.

Because our state-issued identifications do not comply with the REAL ID standards, Missourians can no longer use their Missouri driver’s licenses as valid identification at federal facilities (like nuclear power plants and military bases). Beginning in 2018, Missouri driver’s licenses will no longer be valid at airports as proof of identity for commercial domestic flights. 

With the compliance deadline looming, constituents over and over have told me they’re frustrated that Missouri driver’s licenses do not meet the minimum security standards to be used for federal official purposes. 

At a public hearing last month, state representatives heard from Missouri businesses that supply goods and services to federal facilities in or near Missouri.  The state’s non-compliance with the REAL ID act has foisted additional burdens and governmental red tape upon these businesses.  Their workers are now required to obtain and show alternate forms of identification to access such federal properties.   Legislators also heard from family members of servicemen and women who haven’t been able to visit their loved ones on military bases.  Moreover, the airline industry, business and leisure travelers, and Missouri families testified that the inability to use their Missouri identification on flights within the U.S. would cause many headaches for them. 

What is the solution?

Some big-government politicians in Jefferson City would like to decide what’s best for all Missourians and force them to get a federally issued, national ID like a passport.  I am working instead to offer Missourians the freedom to choose to get a state-issued driver’s license that is REAL ID-compliant, so they can visit a military base or fly domestically with their Missouri identification. The legislation also establishes safeguards so that any additional data gathered is securely stored and used only for purposes of issuing the ID.  But I recognize that some Missourians don’t want to comply with the REAL ID Act. So the legislation allows them to choose the existing type of Missouri driver’s license.      

To be compliant with REAL ID, Missouri needs to take a couple of extra steps.  First, license-office employees who handle residents’ information and identifications need to be thoroughly vetted, including a fingerprint, criminal background check.  They’ll also receive better training on information security and fraud detection.  

Next, for Missourians who choose a REAL ID-compliant license, their source documents (documents that prove their citizenship or lawful residency status (e.g., birth certificate, social security card, etc.), will have to be verified and kept by the state (not by the federal government as some have falsely claimed).  For those who do not want a REAL ID-compliant license, license-office employees will look over the source documents (as is done now) but the documents will not be kept by the state. 

Unfortunately, opponents of the REAL ID fix have peddled a lot of misinformation. They say that if the legislation is enacted, Missourians will have to get a national ID card.  This is false.  In fact, without the legislation, Missourians will be forced to get a true national ID card in the form of a passport—which is more intrusive to one’s privacy than the state identification and even has an RFID chip (which the state identification would not have). 

What about the argument that if Missouri issues a REAL ID-compliant, we would be capitulating to an overreaching federal mandate that violates the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?    

First, it’s important to remember that the federal REAL ID Act is not a mandate to the states. Instead, it is a mandate to federal agencies (e.g., Department of Homeland Security) regarding what identifications can be accepted at federally regulated facilities. One such acceptable identification, among others, is a state-issued driver’s license that complies with the procedural and security requirements of the Act. Congress isn’t mandating Missouri to do anything. Nor is Congress bribing the state to implement a federal program (as is often done) by threatening to withhold federal dollars from the state. 

Next, the Tenth Amendment “reserve[s] to the States” powers that are “not delegated to the United States by the Constitution.” Thus, to determine if Missouri is giving up our sovereignty by offering a REAL ID-compliant license, one must analyze whether the powers exercised in the REAL ID Act have been constitutionally delegated to the federal government. 

Regarding federal facilities (like military bases in Missouri) the power to regulate access to them clearly falls within the federal purview—not only as an inherent power of a sovereign over its property, but also as a power enumerated in the Constitution itself.  Article I, Section 8 grants Congress the authority over federal “forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings.” 

Regarding commercial air travel, it has long been held that the federal government has the power, under the Interstate Commerce Clause, to regulate passenger travel between the states.  As the U.S. Supreme Court held in the 1885 Gloucester Ferry case, interstate commerce “includes the transportation of persons and property.” Congress has the “power to regulate that commerce,” the Court observed, including “the power to prescribe the rules by which it shall be governed, that is, the conditions upon which it shall be conducted.” 

The Constitution thus grants Congress the power to prescribe rules for commercial air travel.  And for good reason.  It would be confusing, chaotic and unsafe if airports in different states employed different sets of security standards. 

Beginning in 2018, Missouri’s driver’s licenses will no longer be accepted at airport security checkpoints.  Air passengers will have to show alternative IDs.  A U.S. passport will work.  But passports can take more than 6 weeks to get.  A family who learns about a loved one’s death across the country won’t have time to get the proper travel documents in order to fly to the funeral a few days later.  And the costs of passports (even passport cards) would be prohibitive for many families.  Missourians shouldn’t have to get passports simply to visit family or to go on vacation in another state. 

We want to continue to protect the private information of Missouri residents—and we will—but we also need a viable solution that will allow Missourians to travel freely and easily with their Missouri identification.  The legislation being considered represents a simple but effective fix that will empower Missourians to make their own choice on the REAL ID issue.

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