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La. House agrees to repeal state ban on REAL ID, create two-tiered driver's license system

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — The Louisiana House agreed on Wednesday to repeal a law that prohibited state officials from issuing driver's licenses with federally mandated security features that many viewed as a privacy intrusion.

Under federal law, REAL ID-compliant licenses will be required to board domestic airline flights by 2016. Without such an ID, passengers will be required to produce a passport or could be subject to intense questioning from airport security.

State lawmakers approved a measure prohibiting compliance with the federal law in 2008 because of privacy concerns. But the House on Wednesday decided to adopt a two-tiered system, allowing those who want to get licenses with the security features to do so and those who don't to decline.

The House voted 79-22 for the bill by Rep. Karen St. Germain. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

"You will need (a REAL ID license) to board an airplane, to walk into a federal building," said St. Germain, D-Pierre Part. "If your everyday life does not include some of these things, then you don't need to get one."

The head of Louisiana State Police, Col. Mike Edmonson, said that out of more than three dozen requirements, Louisiana needs to do only two things to move in line with the federal law: scan into a database and store the birth certificates of anyone with a driver's license and remove the state law prohibiting compliance.

REAL ID-compliant licenses would get a gold star indicating fulfillment of the standards.

Lawmakers in 2008 rejected the added security requirements for a driver's license as too intrusive. Since then, the federal government has scrapped many of the items that generated concern, such as requiring electronic tracking chips in driver's licenses.

"We have come a long way since the first day we talked about this," St. Germain said.

Critics of the REAL ID law have urged legislators to keep the state's ban in place. They said the two-tiered system would treat those who opt out as "second-class citizens" who could be harassed or handled differently. They questioned whether the federal government would really restrict domestic flight access because of lack of compliance with REAL ID.

But no one spoke in opposition to the bill on the House floor Wednesday.

St. Germain agreed to amendments spelling out that the state cannot maintain a copy of a birth certificate or other documents if a person wants a license that doesn't comply with REAL ID. The amendments also would put limits on how the documents scanned for compliant licenses can be shared.


Online:

House Bill 907 can be found at http://www.legis.la.gov

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