The countdown is on. As of today, states have just 379 days to get their driver's licenses in compliance with the Real ID Act of 2005, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures Web site.
That means there's just more than a year to issue new driver's licenses and state IDs before the May 11, 2008, federal deadline -- even though the specifics of the new security standards have not been established yet.
To put it mildly, the states are not happy about it.
"It's a headache in many respects," said David Druker, press secretary for Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
Druker said the program will cost Illinois an estimated $150 million over five years, and so far the federal government has not offered a cent of help.
The Real ID Act sets minimum security standards for state identification cards, a response to the fact that several Sept. 11 hijackers had U.S. driver's licenses, some of them fraudulent. The act was tacked onto a military appropriations bill, and critics say it was passed with little debate by Congress and no input from the states, which will wind up footing 99 percent of a very big bill.
The Iowa Department of Transportation estimates costs of $22 million a year, plus start-up costs. Wisconsin has budgeted $22 million over two years, but that was before the Department of Homeland Security released preliminary standards on March 1.
"There were a number of things in those rules that we had not planned for in our budget," said Patrick Fernan, director of driver services for the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles. "It's going to raise the costs."
Furthermore, everyone with a driver's license or state ID will have to renew it in person by May 11, 2013.
Illinois has about 8.5 million licensed drivers plus 3 million with non-driver's license photo IDs. The in-person renewal will strain the state's approximately 130 service centers. Druker said Illinois has worked hard to shorten lines and wait times at the state's approximately 130 driver service centers by offering license renewal online or by phone, but now these efforts will be undermined by the federal requirements.
Illinois is ahead of most states in tackling the Real ID changes, according to Druker, but there are still problems outside the state's control.
"One of the requirements is to have us confirm documents like birth certificates," Druker said. "But there's no national database of birth certificates, so how would you do that if someone comes from Alabama?"
The Illinois House of Representatives passed a resolution this month calling upon Congress to repeal the Real ID Act. At least 25 other states have passed or are considering similar bills. U.S. Senators Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and John Sununu, R-N.H., have introduced a bill repealing Real ID, and Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine, introduced a companion bill in the House.
The states will have to spend about $11 billion on Real ID, according to a September study by the National Conference on State Legislatures, the National Governors Association and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, all of which have expressed opposition to the requirements.
The federal government has appropriated only $40 million to help the states, and a proposed bill would allocate $300 million more over three years.