BOSTON — If the Legislature fails this session to give him the authority to implement the federal Real ID law, Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday said he's worried that Bay State residents might have to start carrying their passports to access federal buildings or travel through domestic airports before the end of the year.
Two of Baker's senior transportation administration officials briefed House and Senate leaders on the details of the bill the governor filed last October that would give the Registry of the Motor Vehicles the authorization it needs to start implementing the post-2001 anti-terrorism initiative.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack and Registrar Erin Devaney attended the governor's weekly leadership meeting with House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg to brief them on the governor's proposal (H 3814) to issue Real ID compliant drivers licenses by 2020.
The new licenses, which would be marked with a yellow star, would require an applicant to show proof of citizenship or lawful status in the country. Some immigrant advocacy groups have criticized the governor's adherence in his bill to the federal definition of lawful status, arguing it could deny some legal residents driver's licenses.
Last October, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued the state a one-year extension to become compliant with the Real ID Act. Baker said Monday that in order to get another extension this October the state need to show progress toward compliance, which would require legislative action.
"The current extension we have gets us to October of this year, Ok. If we don't do anything, if the Legislature doesn't act to then give us the ability to go to the feds and say, 'We now have legislative authority to do the things you need us to do to implement the bill so that we can be in a position to start granting and issuing federally approved Real ID licenses by 2020,' then by November or December it would be likely that people would have to start bringing their passport to go to federal buildings or an airport, which we'd really like to avoid," Baker told reporters.
The presentation from Pollack and Devaney had been requested by House and Senate leaders, and Rosenberg called it "very informative."
The governor's bill was heard by the Transportation Committee in December, but earlier this month both branches approved an extension until May 2 for the committee to issue its recommendation.
Without elaborating on any concerns with the bill, House Transportation Committee Co-Chair Rep. William Straus told the News Service in an email that he understands the time sensitivity surrounding the issue.
"While I believe Real ID legislation needs to be completed this term, the Committee was not at consensus by the joint rule 10 date and thus an extension order was called for," Straus said.
Under the governor's bill, drivers would have to appear in person to renew their licenses or obtain new Real ID compliant identification. While the state does have until 2020 to get everyone's licenses updated, RMV officials hopes to avoid forcing people to visit a branch in person all at once by starting the process as soon as possible. There are approximately 4.3 million licensed drivers in the Commonwealth.
The governor's bill would also allow the registry to continue to issue non-compliant Massachusetts licenses to drivers who choose to renew their existing license and not appear in person to obtain a "Real ID" from the state, but those IDs after 2020 would no longer be recognized for air travel.
New applicants for identification would have to obtain a "Real ID" compliant card requiring applicants to prove their full legal name, date of birth, residence in Massachusetts and provide a verifiable birth certificate, Social Security number or other proof of lawful residence.
In December, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition legislative director Amy Grunder said the governor's bill "needlessly" requires applicants for any type of new driver's license to meet the federal definition of "lawful status."
"Thus preventing many lawfully presents immigrants from obtaining any type of driver's license or registration in our state, including people who are currently driving with licenses," Grunder said.