- Associated Press - Thursday, March 2, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The House passed a bill Thursday allowing South Carolinians to obtain a driver’s license that meets federal identification requirements and can be used to get onto military bases and board a plane once federal ID law is enforced.

The legislation, approved 100-3, reverses the Legislature’s stance a decade ago, when it passed a law forbidding the state from complying with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005.

Looming deadlines that affect South Carolina residents’ ability to work and travel mattered more than old arguments about federal overreach and privacy.

The legislation gives residents the option of getting the new license beginning Oct. 1.

“This is still a choice for our citizens,” said Rep. Mark Willis, R-Fountain Inn, the bill’s main sponsor.

But even if it passes, South Carolina will need another extension from REAL ID enforcement.

Homeland Security’s latest extension allows military bases and other federal facilities to accept South Carolina’s existing licenses only until June 6. Additional ID - such as a passport, military ID or “trusted traveler” card from Homeland Security - would also be needed to travel by plane starting Jan. 22, 2018.

If South Carolina doesn’t comply, the economic impact in a state with 10 military installations will be substantial, said GOP Rep. Murrell Smith of Sumter, home to Shaw Air Force Base. Beyond making access difficult for contractors, suppliers and delivery trucks, it could hurt South Carolina’s chances of keeping bases in any future military realignment, he said.

Rep. Raye Felder, R-Fort Mill, said residents in her district just south of the North Carolina line are especially worried about the plane rules. When Charlotte Douglas International Airport started putting out signs, she said, “my phones started ringing off the hook.”

The Department of Motor Vehicles expects to spend $1.7 million ahead of the Oct. 1 rollout on equipment and education campaigns. Issuing the licenses is expected to cost up to $14 million in 2017-18 and $5 million in each of the next two fiscal years, depending on how many additional employees are needed to prevent long lines at the state’s 67 DMV offices.

Those estimates are based on all of the state’s 3.5 million drivers getting a REAL ID-compliant license, Willis said.

The new license would look like the state’s existing one, except with a gold emblem in the corner. Getting one requires paying the $25 license renewal fee and presenting a birth certificate, an accepted document with a Social Security number and proof of residency, such as a utility bill or tax form.

That information is no more intrusive than what’s needed to enroll a child in public school, Willis said.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, told the chamber’s GOP majority their reversal from 2007 should serve as an example. South Carolina is in this predicament because then-Gov. Mark Sanford lambasted REAL ID as federal overreach, she said.

“We thumb our noses at the federal government then come back eating crow,” she said. “For our stalwart states’ rights people, there are issues that come back to haunt us.”

The REAL ID law, passed in reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, was meant to make secure, modern identification consistent across the country.

“It protects us from someone not being who they say they are,” said Rep. Katie Arrington, R-Summerville.

But Rep. Josiah Magnuson, R-Campobello, argued the state should stand by its 2007 law against “federal tyranny.”

“South Carolina did what was right. We stated we would not comply with unconstitutional federal action,” said the 25-year-old first-term legislator. “We made the right choice and did what was right to protect the privacy of our people.”


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