Politics & Government

Kentucky scrapping plan for Real ID driver’s licenses. Will it meet 2020 deadline?

Kentucky is scrapping its long-delayed distribution plan for Real ID driver’s licenses, which will be needed late next year to board domestic airline flights.

Transportation Secretary Greg Thomas notified the Kentucky Association of Circuit Court Clerks and the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts by letter Sept. 6 that Kentucky is halting its plan to distribute the enhanced-security licenses in the offices of circuit court clerks.

The state started a pilot program in June to distribute Real ID licenses in Franklin and Woodford counties in the circuit court clerk’s offices with the goal of expanding the rollout to all 120 Kentucky counties by the end of this year.

But Thomas said in his letter that this is “not a sustainable long-term model.” He said the pilot program identified staffing and workload increases in the circuit clerk offices.

Instead, he said, regional centers should be set up where drivers could apply for the voluntary Real ID licenses. Traditional licenses still would be available at local circuit clerks’ offices but could not be used for domestic airline flights and access to federal military bases and other sites beginning Oct. 1, 2020.

“The Cabinet believes this is the fastest and most efficient path forward to make Real ID compliant cards available statewide before the federal deadline of October 2020,” cabinet officials said Wednesday in a news release.

Thomas said the state is trying to secure funding for the regional centers and hopes to work with state and local court officials to quickly develop a plan. He said the cabinet would provide updates as plans are finalized. “We remain committed to a successful rollout,” he said.

Knox Circuit Court Clerk Greg Helton, who is president of the Kentucky Association of Circuit Court Clerks, was to meet with Thomas Wednesday afternoon. He had no immediate comment.

Later, the clerks association and the Administrative Office of the Courts issued a joint statement.

They said “our experience in the pilot counties” showed the need “to change the rollout plan that will better serve Kentucky citizens.

“All parties have agreed on how to proceed going forward,” with the cabinet assuming responsibility for processing and issuing Real IDs and circuit court clerks continuing to issue standard licenses.

“We feel hopeful about how things are proceeding for Kentucky to meet the October 2020 implementation deadline,” they said.

Thomas said in his letter that the clerks in the pilot project experienced problems.

He said more time is needed to process the licenses, which require a “more complex document review.” The result was “major stress on the staff at both locations. The clerks have been forced to divert staff from essential court functions to assist with the additional driver’s license burden. “

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, and House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said they were open to the new plan for the Real ID licenses.

Stivers said money for the centers would come from the Transportation Cabinet’s budget or an appropriation by the legislature.

The cabinet did not say how many regional centers would be needed, how much they would cost and where they would be located. Stivers said there may be 12 of them.

The Transportation Cabinet is expected to present to the legislature in January its plan to distribute Real ID licenses, Stivers said.

Next October, Kentuckians will need a Real ID license or an existing license accompanied by a passport or other valid federal ID to board a commercial flight in the United States.

Kentucky has received several extensions to implement the new high-security licensing system required by a 2005 federal law, aimed at stopping terrorists’ ability to evade detection by using fraudulent identification.

Gov. Matt Bevin signed legislation in 2017 to bring Kentucky into compliance with the federal regulations. A year earlier, he had urged lawmakers to pass a similar bill, only to veto it when it arrived on his desk.

Members of the Tea Party claimed the law, which was enacted in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, could be used to invade their privacy.