JEFFERSON CITY • Gov. Jay Nixon’s office and Missouri legislative leaders say they are investigating ways to solve a long-running dispute with the federal government over the state’s drivers licenses.
Less than a week after the federal Department of Homeland Security warned that the state’s exemption from federal identification rules would end Jan. 10, Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said he has directed his top attorney to investigate a possible fix.
But Richard said, “No decision about what that might be has been made at this point.”
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said House staffers are already working to try to address what could become a significant headache for some Missourians beginning next month.
“We’re in the process of trying to figure out exactly what the department’s objection is with our form of ID and why they decided all of a sudden to stop granting the exemptions they’ve been granting Missouri and several other states,” Richardson told the Post-Dispatch in an interview Tuesday.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Missouri and others states were skeptical of a federal government program designed to toughen identification rules.
Amid concern that the federal Real ID program would result in a national identification card, Missouri lawmakers blocked changes through the passage of legislation in 2009.
Last week, however, the Department of Homeland Security said Missouri drivers licenses and identification cards would not be acceptable forms of identification to enter federal facilities after Jan. 10.
That maneuver spurred further speculation that Missouri residents eventually will face hurdles trying to board airplanes.
“That’s why I’m taking it seriously,” Richard said.
For now, the federal edict applies only to federal facilities, including military bases and nuclear power plants.
“Missouri residents visiting a federal facility can provide another form of identification or follow procedures that the facility allows for persons without acceptable identification,” DHS spokeswoman Amanda DeGroff said.
A crackdown on using a Missouri ID to board airplanes will not go into effect in January.
Homeland Security is assessing the effects of enforcement of the law in four phases. The fourth phase — stopping the use of noncompliant identification cards at airports — won’t come until the first three phases are analyzed. Travelers will be given four months warning before it takes effect.
“DHS will ensure the public has ample advanced notice before identification requirements for boarding aircraft or entering additional types of federal facilities change,” the agency notes.
Like lawmakers, a spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon said the office is reviewing the DHS letter “and determining appropriate steps.”
It would appear the next move rests with the Legislature.
Under the 2009 law, Missouri lawmakers prohibited the state Department of Revenue from changing procedures for applying for a drivers license or identification card to comply with the goals of the federal act.
In a letter to Missouri Department of Revenue Director Nia Ray, Homeland Security notes Missouri complies with 34 of 40 provisions of the Real ID act. The state falls short on requirements for special security markings on its cards in at least two categories.
State Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, chairman of the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee, said there is no legislation pending that would address the federal demands.
Libla is not among those clamoring to get Missouri in compliance.
“We’re spending more time harassing our citizens, while we’re not taking care of our own borders. It’s like we’re upside down right now,” Libla said.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is monitoring the standoff, but a spokesman said the issue is a state-level decision because of the Legislature’s action in 2009.
“There’s not a whole lot of wiggle room,” said spokesman Brian Hart.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., also is watching the dispute.
“We’re tracking this closely and we’re hopeful that the state and the Homeland Security Department will find a mutually agreed upon process to move forward without disrupting Missourians’ access to important federal services or travel,” spokesman John LaBombard said.
DeGroff said DHS is working with officials in other states to grant extensions “where warranted.”
“Missouri has not yet provided adequate justification to receive an extension,” she noted.
In an October letter to Homeland Security, Ray notes that the agency is prohibited from complying with the act because of the 2009 law.
“Nonetheless, we remain convinced that the Missouri drivers license and nondriver ID are very secure identification documents when issued according to Missouri law,” Ray said.