ALBANY — New York motorists will soon be getting a new option for a driver's license, when state and county motor vehicle agencies begin making available REAL ID documents.

The federal government has been pushing states to offer it since 2005.

New York is rated by the federal Department of Homeland Security as being "under review" when it comes to complying with the national government standards that flowed from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in which terrorists used hijacked jetliners as missiles to kill nearly 3,000 Americans.

Beginning Monday, Oct. 30, state and county motor vehicle departments will have three options available for motorists: the plain vanilla, or standard, license; the new REAL ID license; and so-called enhanced licenses.

 

CHANGE IN 2020

For those with standard licenses, state officials are advising New Yorkers that it is not essential to rush in for an updated license, as the current one will be accepted for boarding domestic flights until Oct. 1, 2020.

However, a driver's license is good for eight years, so people should figure that into their planning.

As of Oct. 1, 2020, the federal government will require REAL ID-compliant photographic identification in order to take domestic flights or enter a military base or other federal installation, such as a nuclear power plant.

 

ENHANCED LICENSES

The most versatile of New York licenses will remain the already available Enhanced Driver's Licenses, called EDLs by state officials. 

Those who hold them can cross into Canada or Mexico without showing a passport. They are also accepted by the federal Transportation Security Administration for boarding domestic flights.

he enhanced licenses, being compliant with REAL ID, are also accepted by military bases and other federal properties.

The cost for the enhanced New York license is $30 more than the cost of a regular license renewal. 

The state says it will charge the same for a REAL ID license as it does for the standard license renewal: $64.50

 

SECURITY STRATEGY

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security says the transition to more-secure licenses and identification documents is an essential part of a "holistic national security strategy."

"Law enforcement must be able to rely on government-issued identification documents and know that the bearer of such a document is who he or she claims to be," the federal agency states on its website.

 

IN PERSON ONLY

County officials say the addition of REAL ID licenses and identification cards in New York gives residents an opportunity to decide which form of identification best suits their needs. 

Those who want to apply for REAL ID must do so at motor vehicle offices, as the new form of identification cannot be obtained through the mail or online.

Those seeking them are expected to bring proof of identity, birth, residence, citizenship and Social Security numbers when they apply.

 

MUCH MORE WORK

Contacted in Plattsburgh, Clinton County Department of Motor Vehicles Supervisor Dawn Chapple and her boss, County Clerk John Zurlo, said they have received only skimpy information from the state so far on the rollout for the REAL ID licenses. 

And they anticipate many questions from license applicants.

"This is going to require a lot more work by county DMV offices because all these documents are going to have to be scanned in" to accompany the REAL ID applications, Chapple said.

The requirements are expected to rekindle grumbling by county governments over the fact that the state allots them just 12.7 percent of the revenue from DMV transactions that take place in local offices. 

The state gives 2 percent of the revenue, after certain thresholds are reached, for transactions that motorists conduct over the New York State DMV website.

"Their goal is to take all of our business and leave us with the transactions that are impossible to do online or through the mail," Zurlo said.

 

EXPECTS CONFUSION

Schoharie County Clerk Indica Jaycox said she also expects the new license option will draw attention to her contention that the counties with motor vehicle agencies are being shortchanged by Albany. 

She noted her DMV staffers spend many hours answering complicated insurance questions from motorists without the county getting any money for that service.

"We even help a lot of people over the phone because people realize that calling Albany is not as easy as calling a county office," Jaycox said.

In Cooperstown, Otsego County Clerk Kathy Sinnott Gardner said she is expecting the updated menu of license options will spawn some confusion across the state. 

"Why can't we have just one license?" she asked. "Having three is kind of insane."

Gardner said she expects to keep her standard license for as long as it serves its purpose and to use a passport for identification when she travels. 

She noted that proposals to boost the revenue retention for counties have typically been approved by the GOP-led Senate in Albany but have been bottled up by an Assembly controlled by New York City Democrats.

 

CLEARLY MARKED

The three New York licenses come with different markings. 

An American flag is printed in the lower right corner of the enhanced license, which is compliant with the REAL ID Act.

The Real ID comes with a circled star in the document's upper right-hand corner. The standard license stands out because of its marking, "Not for federal purposes" in the upper right-hand corner.

In Albany, DMV spokeswoman Tiffany Portzer said her state agency plans to produce an educational video to help raise awareness about the new REAL ID option that will be available soon.

 

GRACE PERIOD

She also acknowledged that the federal Department of Homeland Security granted New York and several other states extensions for coming into compliance with the federal rules. 

Portzer noted that a grace period of enforcement granted to the states that qualified for the extensions allow New Yorkers to board airplanes and access federal facilities with current licenses or non-driver IDs.

She did not elaborate on the specific reasons the federal government has yet to fully certify New York's program.

In Washington, D.C., Anna Franko, spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said her agency does not comment on "pre-decisional deliberations" or "steps towards compliance" by the states.

However, she pointed out, "residents can expect no functional or operational changes at this time due to the implementation of a grace period by the department."

 

Email Joe Mahoney:

jmahoney@cnhi.com

 

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