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REAL ID and Pennsylvania: Why a new license may change your ability to fly

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Pennsylvanians may soon have to buy new, specialized drivers licenses in order to board a plane, thanks to an 11-year old federal law.

The REAL ID Act of 2005, passed by Congress and signed into law at the recommendation of the Department of Homeland Security after the 9/11 Commission, requires states to have more accurate documentation of their citizens, making it more difficult for terrorists to acquire false identification cards.

How will this impact you? According to the Act, which was implemented in 2013, the Transportation Security Administration  is only allowing those with REAL ID-compatible identification cards to board planes. Pennsylvania is one of 29 states which is currently not fully compliant with REAL ID standards.

"At this time, there is no impact, and there wont be for another two years," says Scott Miller, spokesperson for the Harrisburg International Airport.

Why is there no impact for Pennsylvanians? Recently, PennDOT filed for an extension with the Dept. of Homeland Security, which was granted. By Oct. 1, 2016, Pennsylvania must be compliant, or they can apply for another extension. However, by January 1, 2018, Pennsylvania must begin to implement REAL IDs and by Oct. 1, 2020, all states must either have REAL ID in place in order to fly, or use another form of acceptable identification, such as a U.S. Passport, which costs $125.

As long as PennDOT keeps applying for extensions until 2018, Pennsylvanians will not have any issues boarding planes in any airports in the United States.

Pennsylvania is not working on developing a new form of ID, according to PennDOT Deputy Secretary of Driver and Vehicle Services Kurt Myers, because the state literally cannot.

In 2012, then-Governor Tom Corbett signed Act 38 into law, which establishes Pennsylvania is prohibited from participating in the federal REAL ID Act.

"I think Pennsylvanians can see what I saw: What does this really achieve?" asks Senator Mike Folmer.

Folmer (R-Lebanon) introduced Senate Bill 354 in the 2011-12 legislative session, which, after passing the State Senate unanimously and the State House with only four "no" votes, was signed by Corbett.

"They saw it as an unfunded mandate, that we would have to pick up the bill for," Folmer remembers.  "And then the central data bank of information, and turning this card into something we would see from Nazi Germany, like, 'Show me your papers please.'"

A REAL ID card would be akin to 'Big Brother' watching over American citizens too much, Folmer says. He also questions how much more secure it would be compared to Pennsylvania's current drivers license, which, according to Kurt Myers, is already one of the most secure in the country.

"We feel very confident that the things we do today are not only securing the product, but the confidentiality," Myers says.

He says Pennsylvania's legislature would need to pass a law abolishing Act 38 of 2012 in order for the state to create REAL ID compliant cards.

Pennsylvania is not alone in its non-compliance against REAL ID. Five of the six most populated states in the U.S. are also holding out against the federal law, including California, New York, Texas, and Illinois.