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House committee backs bill to let La. drivers choose if they want federal-compliant license

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Louisiana driver's licenses would move in line with federal standards soon to be required for ID cards used to board domestic flights under a bill that won the backing of a House committee Tuesday.

If licenses aren't deemed compliant with the federal REAL ID law by 2016, Louisiana residents could run into flying difficulties, either needing a passport to board domestic flights or facing intense questioning from airport security. State lawmakers enacted a prohibition against compliance with the federal law in 2008 because of privacy concerns.

Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, is pushing the bill that would let the state issue REAL ID-compliant driver's licenses. Drivers in Louisiana could choose if they want the compliant license or the license that doesn't meet the REAL ID standards.

"We need to be responsible to the people we represent, and they need a choice. And we're giving them that choice. You don't have to get it if you don't want to," St. Germain said.

The transportation committee supported St. Germain's bill without objection, sending it to the full House for debate.

Opponents said the bill doesn't really offer a choice but 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.

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.

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, like requiring electronic chips that allowed tracking on driver's licenses.

Critics of the REAL ID law urged committee members against repealing the state's ban.

Diane Long of Bossier Parish, with the conservative Louisiana Power Coalition, said compliance with the federal identification law could lead to global sharing of personal information.

"As legislators, you have an obligation to protect the citizens' privacy," said Sandy McDade, also with the Louisiana Power Coalition.

Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, said he previously voted to keep Louisiana from complying with REAL ID because he was concerned about civil liberties, but he said he supports giving people a choice.

"People need to be able to access air travel," he said.

Long urged: "Just hold steady. Don't comply. I think the citizens will be all right."


Online:

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

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