CARSON CITY -- A high-security driver's license program that cost $2 million to start might be dumped in May.
Assemblyman Marcus Conklin said the Legislative Committee to Review Regulations, of which he is chairman, could decide next month not to extend the Department of Motor Vehicles program that made Nevada one of only nine states complying with the federal Real ID law.
"I am not sure we are going to extend it," Conklin, D-Las Vegas, said Tuesday. "The Legislature generally has not been supportive of Real ID."
Conklin could be in line to become the Assembly's majority leader at the 2011 session.
Ending the program won't cause any problems for travelers because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has delayed until March 2011 the deadline for states to comply with the law, which was intended to verify drivers' identities and create licenses that terrorists cannot duplicate. Before delaying implementation of the law in December, the agency threatened to prevent travelers from flying if they lived in states that did not follow the law.
But halting the program could have a side benefit for Nevada motorists: shorter lines at the DMV.
It takes a couple of extra minutes to process an application for a Real ID-compliant license. Waits for customers at Las Vegas offices now are typically two to four hours.
Conklin pointed out that the Legislature in 2009 rejected a bill to have the DMV take steps needed to issue the more secure driver's licenses. Then his committee deferred action in December on passing a regulation to let the DMV proceed with the new licenses.
But Gov. Jim Gibbons stepped in and approved a temporary, 120-day regulation that permitted DMV to start issuing the new licenses. That regulation expires May 1 unless legislators decide to continue the program.
As a result of Gibbons' action, the DMV moved forward to comply with the Real ID law, even though the deadline for states to comply was extended.
So far, about 18,000 advanced secured issuance licenses have been issued by the Nevada agency. The DMV has spent about $2 million gearing up for the new licenses, of which about $750,000 came from the state.
Nevada's DMV even was awarded the Homeland Security Award on Monday from the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License for launching the new license program. The coalition is made up of relatives of people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Coalition President Brian Zimmer said the terrorists had 30 valid IDs, including state driver's licenses.
Among other things, the DMV does background checks on DMV workers who have access to drivers' information, checks whether drivers are legal residents and retains facial images of drivers.
The Real ID Act of 2005 was an attempt by Congress to develop a national driver's license that could not be easily duplicated by terrorists.
To receive these gold star licenses, residents must show a birth certificate, a Social Security card and proof of residency through utility or other bills.
Those without birth certificates or Social Security cards can show a passport or a W-2 tax form or other types of identification.
Only first-time drivers, people moving to the state or those changing their names or addresses are required now to obtain Real ID-compliant licenses.
But DMV state Director Edgar Roberts said other people have elected to get theirs now, in part because of reports that they could be prevented from boarding airliners without the new license.
Under federal rules, people born after Dec. 1, 1964, have until December 2014 to secure the new license. Those born before that date can wait until December 2017.
Rebecca Gasca, public advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Tuesday that Real ID-compliant licenses would not have stopped the terrorist attacks.
"The terrorists all had valid passports," Gasca said.
She said 14 states have passed laws to prohibit the implementation of the Real ID law.
The ACLU opposes the new licenses as an intrusion into the privacy of citizens.
"It won't work unless everyone does it," Gasca said. "For some reason Nevada capitulated."
Conklin speculated Monday that the Homeland Security agency could approve an extension next year and Congress eventually could junk the law because of opposition from the states.
"No one has to comply now," Conklin said. "I am curious what the rush was."
Daniel Burns, Gibbons' communications director, said the governor approved the emergency regulation because at the time, states faced a Jan. 1, 2010, deadline to comply with the Real ID law.
It was only after Gibbons issued the temporary regulation that Homeland Security approved another delay.
Wait lines at DMV offices across the state have lengthened, in part because of the new license requirements.
It now takes two to four hours to complete business at Las Vegas DMV offices, according to DMV spokesman Tom Jacobs. He said many people don't have the required ID forms and must go home to get them.
Even at the Carson City DMV office, where business formerly could be completed in about 30 minutes, the waits now are more than an hour.
Roberts insisted the Real ID license requirement added only "a couple of minutes" to the wait times. He attributed the longer waits to employees having to take one furlough day per month and a hiring freeze.
Forty unhappy people stood in line Monday at the Carson City office. DMV figures 40 percent of them will request the gold star licenses.
"Can't they hire more people?" said one angry woman as she spied the long line of people ahead of her.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.