Louisiana License Limbo
REAL ID Act could impact Louisiana fliers
Pat Caraway says he books about 70% of his travel business on domestic destinations.
Typically, those customers would board a plane by showing only a Louisiana Driver's License. However, come January 15, 2013, that document will not pass Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, approval under the REAL ID Act.
When asked if he thought the average Louisiana traveler knows about the looming change, Caraway confidently answers, "No."
"If you stopped people, I don't think, you'd be lucky if you even found one person that's really knowledgeable about this at all," Caraway says of the REAL ID Act implications. "And the passport office, they're not really clued into what might or might not apply."
If Louisiana licenses do not make the grade before the January deadline, state residents would need to present a passport before boarding domestic flights. These federal IDs often take up to six weeks for processing and cost as much as $165, significantly more than $24.50 for a Louisiana driver's license.
At Shreveport Regional Airport, authorities say their hands are tied when it comes to boarding a plane.
"We're in a wait and see mode because we don't play a role in this decision," says Bryant Francis, Director of Airports for Shreveport Regional Airport. "It's between the states that decided to opt out of the program initially and the Department of Homeland Security."
Because this a federal TSA requirement, Francis says they can only wait for the deadline and hope for the best.
Meanwhile, Caraway says requiring passports would up-end his industry and disrupt travel plans for millions of Americans. The US Census Bureau estimates there are almost 315 million people living in the United States, but the U.S. Department of State records show there are only 113 million valid passports in the country.
"It would create total havoc, of course," Caraway says of the stricter requirements. "They have trips already planned they can't go on. They'd have to try to go on. They'd have to try to go out and get passports at a moment's notice."
"We know that not only within the state, but nationwide, air travel's become a regular part of life and it's also a pretty big economic driver," Francis says.
In 2008, the Louisiana State Legislature voted to opt-out of the REAL ID requirements, giving a number of reasons for non-compliance. Lawmakers argued stronger licenses would be more lucrative for anyone who wanted to buy and sell them, hackers could be more attracted to state databases with the extra personal information, and the plan's costs caused concern.
According to the bill's writers, a September 2006 joint study from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, the National Governors' Association, and the National Conference of State Legislatures said it would cost states more than $11 billion over five years to implement the changes.
Arkansas and Texas are on track to be REAL ID-compliant, and since this is a federal law, those licenses will work at airports across the country.
The law also has potential ramifications for access into federal buildings like the federal courthouse in downtown Shreveport. U.S. Marshal Henry Whitehorn, however, says his department expects to continue accepting Louisiana driver's licenses even past Jan. 15, 2013.
The REAL ID Act's implementation has been pushed back several times since passage, and travel authorities hope for another delay.
"We're just hoping for a resolution to come soon, and one which works for all the travelers," says Francis.
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