Federal action on licenses may stall
- By William Matthews
- Sep 06, 2002
Bills to "federalize" driver's licenses have stalled in Congress, but they're
cruising in the passing lane in many state legislatures.
Forty-one states considered laws to improve driver's license security
this legislative session, and 21 passed such laws, according to California
Sen. Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach). Only five states were working on the
issue before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, she said.
The prompt action by states may make congressional action to tighten
standards for driver's licenses unnecessary, Karnette and other witnesses
told a House transportation subcommittee Sept. 5.
"We don't need to 'federalize' driver's licenses," Kentucky Rep. John
Michael Weaver (D-Hardin) said. "States aren't waiting to take action, they're
Kentucky, for example, substantially changed its rules for issuing licenses
to foreign nationals. The state now checks visa information, sets driver's
licenses to expire when visas expire and requires annual license renewals.
Other states have added fingerprints and digitized information to their
licenses, and established new databases to verify identities.
The weakness of driver's licenses as reliable identification cards was
spotlighted by last September's terrorist attacks. Most of the terrorists
flashed driver's licenses to board the planes they hijacked and crashed
into the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington,
That prompted the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators
to demand much stricter standards for issuing licenses. The association
also called for more linking of state and federal databases to check information
such as names, addresses, Social Security numbers, immigration status and
Two Virginia lawmakers responded with the Driver's License Modernization
Act, which would require states to adopt "smart" card driver's licenses
with computer chips that would store data, ranging from identification information
to credit card accounts.
Another bill urges states to tie license expiration dates for nonimmigrant
aliens to the expiration dates of their visas. A third bill drafted by U.S.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has not been introduced.
Now, with so many states adopting driver's license reforms, congressional
action "is unnecessary," the Council of State Governments and the National
Conference of State Legislatures said in a statement Karnette delivered
to the House Transportation Committee's Highways and Transit Subcommittee.
The two groups worry that new federal laws will "create a huge unfunded
mandate for states," and they fear federal legislation will "preempt states'
control of their driver's license program."
Various public interest groups also oppose federal driver's license
legislation, fearing federal standards for driver's licenses will lead to
a national ID.