BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — With only one vote to spare, the Louisiana Senate agreed Tuesday to repeal a six-year-old law that keeps the state from issuing driver's licenses that comply with federal security mandates.
Licenses and state-issued identification cards will be required to comply with the federal REAL ID law to board domestic airline flights by 2016. Without such an ID, passengers will be required to produce a passport or could be subject to intense questioning from airport security.
Louisiana's lawmakers enacted a ban in 2008 on meeting the federal requirements because of privacy concerns, but many of the most heavily criticized security features have since been dropped.
State senators voted 21-16 Tuesday to allow compliance with the REAL ID law on a voluntary basis in Louisiana. The House-approved bill by Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, needed 20 votes to pass. It heads back to the House for consideration of Senate changes designed to address some privacy worries.
Under the bill, drivers would get a choice between receiving a license that has the security features to comply with the REAL ID or one that does not. REAL ID licenses would get a gold star indicating fulfillment of the standards.
"We've tried to come up with a bill that's purely optional for our citizens," said Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton.
Col. Mike Edmonson, the head of Louisiana State Police, supports the bill. He has said Louisiana needs to scan into a database and store the birth certificates of people with drivers' licenses and ID cards to comply with federal law.
The rest of the security features required of the licenses and ID cards already are in place.
Supporters said while they didn't necessarily support the federal requirements, they didn't want Louisiana residents to face trouble boarding a plane.
"None of us like this, but your fight is with Congress," said Adley, whose stepmother had emailed lawmakers urging them to reject his bill.
Before making a decision, a person seeking a state-issued ID card or a driver's license would get a description of the REAL ID-compliant version, including what personal information would be collected and maintained and who would have access to the data.
The state database that contains the scanned documents for REAL ID-compliant licenses couldn't be linked to other databases, and anyone who illegally accesses or releases the data would face up to six months in jail for each offense.
Sen. Jonathan Perry, R-Kaplan, a critic of the REAL ID law, helped write the limitations on data usage and other disclosure requirements. But even those weren't enough to get him to support the bill.
"I do not trust the federal government, and I'm starting not to trust us," Perry said.
Under the bill, any new requirements added by federal officials for REAL ID compliance would need further approval from state lawmakers before they could be used in Louisiana.