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Real ID, real trouble

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Air travel gets more aggravating by the year — crowded planes, ever-changing regulations and the growing hassles of security lines. But a new complication is on the horizon for Louisianans: What if you had to present a passport for domestic as well as international flights? What if your Louisiana drivers license or state ID no longer sufficed as official identification every time you needed to fly to Houston for business or Orlando for a family getaway?

  That's a real possibility, now that the federal government has indicated it's ready to enforce the Real ID Act, which will change the way states issue identification. Among the changes: new security paper, more stringent scrutiny of application documents such as birth certificates and Social Security cards and — the big sticking point for many — a federal database linking this information in new ways.

  The Real ID Act is a bipartisan law, but people in both parties also object to it. The Act was recommended by the 9/11 Commission, passed by Congress in 2005 and signed into law by then-President George W. Bush. Implementation has been repeatedly delayed — most recently, last month — but President Barack Obama's administration has made it clear that it intends to enforce the Real ID Act, perhaps as soon as this fall.

  In December, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) determined that only 13 states had met Real ID standards. A few others, including Arkansas and Texas, were almost there. Still other states passed legislation attempting to outlaw Real ID. Louisiana is among them. In 2008, state lawmakers passed HB 715, which directs the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections not to implement provisions of Real ID. Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the bill.

  Libertarians, conservatives and civil-liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have objected to this new form of licensure — some on states' rights grounds, some on the basis of cost (in the billions of dollars), and some in opposition to the idea of a de facto national identity card. Meanwhile, proponents of the plan say it tightens loopholes that might allow a terrorist or criminal to obtain fake identification or to enter the country illegally. They note that having to use a passport for domestic travel complies with Real ID — just in a more cumbersome way.

  Both sides raise valid concerns. Right now, state lawmakers are getting ready for the 2013 session by pre-filing bills they want to see considered. Addressing Real ID should be on their collective radar this year. Given the nature and extent of federal travel restrictions and the current timbre of political discussion, both statewide and nationally, it's certain to be a heated debate.

  Doing nothing is not an option. Real ID raises issues of privacy, but ignoring it threatens public safety and public access. A passport is a much more complicated and expensive document to obtain than a driver's license. Moreover, Real ID isn't limited to airport security; once Real ID is enforced, Louisianans will likely have to show their passports in other situations where state IDs currently suffice, such as accessing some federal buildings and applying for federal assistance and programs such as Social Security.

  As legislators prepare for this year's session, we'll keep an eye on what, if anything, they do about either complying with or defying the Real ID Act. Meanwhile, Louisianans might want to make sure their passports are up-to-date.

House District 79:

Rizzuto and Stokes

  Voters in state House District 79 will choose a new representative Saturday, March 2, to replace former state Rep. Tony Ligi, who resigned to take a position with the Jefferson Business Council. District 79 includes the lakefront areas of West Metairie and Kenner, from the Suburban Canal to the St. Charles Parish line.

  Three of the four candidates for that seat sought our endorsement. After interviewing them, we believe the voters would be well served by either Jack Rizzuto or Julie Stokes. Both are Republicans with extensive political endorsements in Jefferson Parish, and both own family businesses. We found different things to like about each.

  Stokes has an impressive resume as a certified public accountant, vocational rehab counselor and civic leader. Rizzuto has a superior grasp of the state's current fiscal problems and health care issues as well as Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposed tax code changes. Both oppose using any of the state's BP settlement money to plug holes in next year's operating budget. We recommend them both to the voters of House District 79.

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