Real ID driver's licenses to be optional

CARSON CITY -- A new high-security driver's license would soon become optional under a plan proposed by the DMV's director and endorsed by lawmakers on Monday.

Nevadans attending the meeting of a legislative panel cheered the news that the controversial license would no longer be mandatory -- at least until such a time as the federal government says otherwise.

Opponents have described the Real ID program, which Congress passed as a safeguard against terrorism, as unnecessarily intrusive into people's lives.

Department of Motor Vehicles Director Edgar Roberts told the Legislative Committee on Regulations that it will cost $410,000 to reverse course.

It had cost $2 million to implement the Real ID license program in Nevada, of which $750,000 was state money.

Roberts said 46,000 drivers have obtained the Real ID licenses since January, when Gov. Jim Gibbons, by executive order, issued a 120-day regulation that made Nevada one of only nine states complying with the federal act.

Gibbons issued the regulation, even though legislators last year killed a bill to require the new licenses. The temporary regulation, which expires at the end of April, has appeared to contribute to longer waits at the DMV, as applicants often don't bring in all the required documents, causing delays.

To receive the high-security "gold star" licenses, drivers must show a birth certificate, a Social Security card and proof of residency through utility or other bills.

The DMV also is required to do background checks on DMV workers who have access to drivers' information, check whether drivers are legal residents and retain facial images of drivers.

Congress passed the Real ID Act in 2005 as a way to develop a national driver's license that could not be easily duplicated by terrorists.

Members of the public attending the meeting teleconferenced in Carson City and Las Vegas cheered loudly when Roberts told the committee that acquiring the new license no longer would be necessary.

Those applauding the end of the Real ID regulation included representatives of liberal and conservative groups.

"The governor did this by executive order after you opposed it," John Wagner, chairman of the Independent American Party of Nevada, said to lawmakers. "If we're going to have government by executive order, then why do we need the Legislature?"

Rebecca Gasca, public advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union, said 16 states have refused to adopt the Real ID requirements.

She said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has not issued a final ruling on what states will be required to do.

Earlier, the federal agency threatened to prevent people from states without Real ID-compliant licenses from flying on airplanes. But in December, it postponed until March 2011 a final decision on what action it will take if states don't follow the federal law.

When she was governor of Arizona, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano signed a bill prohibiting Real ID licenses in her state.

The DMV must now quickly hold a new hearing on its regulation to make the Real ID license optional. A date and place for the hearing have not been set, although it probably will be Friday. The legislative committee is then to take up the proposal on April 28.

Under the temporary regulation, new Nevada drivers and those changing their names or addresses were required to get the real ID licenses. People born after Dec. 1, 1964, were not required to get the new type of license before December 2014.

Assemblyman Marcus Conklin and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, both D-Las Vegas, made Roberts promise to explain during the hearing that people getting Nevada licenses for the first time and those changing their addresses or last names can obtain non-Real ID licenses.

"I expect you to pull this (Real ID regulation) and work from the new one," Conklin said. "That is my proposal."

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.