Patrick B. McGuigan, editor
OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin signed the REAL-ID Act (House Bill 1845) into law on Thursday, March 2. Joining her as she affixed her signature were House and Senate leaders.
After years of debate and discussion, the measure gained comfortable approval – sailing through the House on a 78-18 vote in mid-February and garnering 35-11 passage in the Senate on Tuesday (February 28).
The wide margin of consent masked enduring and marked divisions over the state’s compliance with U.S. government pressure to change the state-approved identifications from current driver’s licenses to “compliant” cards that critics believe allow easier access confidential information.
Concerning the first law enacted this legislative session, Fallin applauded the solons “for working in a constructive, bipartisan fashion” to get H.B. 1845 to her desk.
In her prepared statement sent to reporters, the state’s chief executive asserted, “Our citizens let us know they wanted action on this legislation so they wouldn’t be burdened with the cost and hassle of providing additional identification to gain entrance to federal buildings, military bases or federal courthouse. And they most certainly didn’t want to have to pay for additional identification, such as a passport, in order to board a commercial airliner beginning in January. The people spoke and our legislators listened. And I’m pleased to sign House Bill 1845 into law.”
Senate President Pro Temp Mike Schulz, R-Altus – who argued for the measure in final debate – said, “Maintaining access for the thousands of Oklahomans who work on military bases is a matter of national security. Making Oklahoma compliant with the REAL ID law means those civilian contractors working on military bases can continue to support the men and women in the Armed Forces who defend our freedoms.
“This bill also gives Oklahomans a choice, and lets them choose an ID that is not compliant with the federal law. The passage of this legislation is a great example of how the Legislature and the governor can get things done when we come together and work toward a common goal. I look forward to that continued partnership as we address the challenges facing Oklahoma and work to build a more prosperous state.”
House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka – cosponsor, with Schulz, of the law – said in his signing comments, “The Legislature has quickly resolved a matter important for our citizens and our economy.
This bill will bring our state into compliance with federal law while protecting the privacy and freedom of our citizens.
“Those Oklahomans who are concerned about privacy and liberty will be allowed to opt out and receive a state-compliant ID, but those citizens who need access to federal installations or who desire to travel can receive a federally compliant ID. I have never seen a bill pass both chambers and get signed into law in four weeks, so this is an example of how we can all work together to get a priority for the people of Oklahoma accomplished.”
Formally, in the words of the legal summary, the new law establishes “compliant and noncompliant driver licenses and identification cards” for Oklahoma.
Although the outcome of the Senate vote on REAL ID was never in doubt this year, the upper chamber debated the issue for a little more than an hour before final passage. Speaking against the measure in the upper chamber were Republican Sens. Anthony Sykes of Moore, Nathan Dahm of Broken Arrow and Ralph Shortey of Oklahoma City. Arguing in favor were Republican Sens. David Holt of Oklahoma City and the sponsor, President Pro Temp Schulz.
Sen. Holt handled the bill for final approval, and was pepperedd with many questions which were often repetitive or reworded.
The trio of Sykes, Dahm and Shortey maintained their opposition on constitutional grounds, saying the pressures from the U.S. government went beyond the bounds of constitutionally-permitted powers. In brief remarks, Sykes said new levies associated with compliance were unwise and unnecessary.
Dahm and Shortey pressed a range of broad legal and smaller procedural details.
Debate and questions/answers between Dahm and Holt took place indirectly through Sen. AJ Griffin, R-Guthrie, who presided over the final debate. Their exchanges were sometimes testy, including the moment when Holt said a contention Dahm made about past discussions was “untrue.”
On the floor, senators often word questions in such as way as to secure agreement from a colleague, using this familiar leading phrase, “Would the senator be surprised to know,” followed by a preferred interpretation of facts. On one occasion, in response to such a question, Holt replied, “Nothing would surprise me at this point.”
Dahm and Shortey each contended the measure allows government to access personal “biometric data” about Oklahomans; Holt countered the data gathered is the same as at present, but will be more closely managed by security-conscious state employees acting under federal training.
While state tag agents (independent businesses) are involved in the licensing process, the actual issuance of IDs will be done in a centralized and, advocates believe, more secure manner. Sen. Shortey predicted this will lead to long lines for those seeking to renew or first secure licenses.
Implementation is expected to cost $12-15 million, with potentially $18 million in revenue, although fiscal details were also a source of debate throughout the questions/answers period and final debate.
Joining the floor discussion with brief observations were Republican Sens. Jason Smalley of Stroud and Marty Quinn of Claremore. Smalley said that later this session or next year, the Legislature should seek ways to reduce fees attached to the new ID system; Quinn complained the measure, masked as a fee, had become “nothing more than a tax increase.” Smalley supported the bill on final passage, Quinn was opposed.
Democratic Leader John Sparks of Norman and his caucus left most discussion to the majority, although he offered some questions over fine details of the measure in a colloquy with Holt.
Final remarks came from Pro Temp Schulz, who reflected, “I wish we didn’t live in a world where a law like this was necessary, … but we don’t live in that world today.” The law will serve its purpose, he said, “If REAL-ID prevents one person from entering to detonate a device” on the state’s soil.
On the final roll call, Sparks’ minority (with six members) supported the new law. Two Republicans were absent, but the bill had strong support (29 aye votes) in the majority party. All 11 votes against came from Republicans.
According to a Senate summary, “The legislation ensures Oklahomans who choose to get the REAL ID compliant driver license or ID will be able to use that identification to fly or to enter federal facilities while also giving citizens the option of choosing a non-compliant driver license or ID.”
State Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, shepherded the measure for Speaker McCall in the lower chamber.
When the proposal passed last month she said, “It was important to allow Oklahomans the option of keeping their current license.” Osborn, who is chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, said, “Many residents may not have a need for a REAL ID-compliant license or may be cautious about the over-sharing of information, and we wanted to make sure those individuals were not inconvenienced. This option garnered support by both Republicans and Democrats.”
The Sooner State had had an extension from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, through June 6 of this year. The June deadline was an arguing point for REAL-ID foes, who even after years of work said an improved version of the law could be achieved by session’s end. But the majority in both chambers wanted to move ahead.
Looming in the near future was the likelihood that access to military bases and federal facilities would be withheld without compliant IDs. The federal Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) has previously said compliant IDs will be required to board commercial aircraft beginning January 22, 2018.