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Federal legislation called Real ID was supposed to set national security standards for state driver's licenses. States are supposed to comply by the end of the year, but many are rebelling.

Now, as NPR's Audie Cornish reports, Congress is looking to modify the law.

AUDIE CORNISH: The idea of making driver's licenses more secure came from the 9/11 Commission when Congress found out that many of the 9/11 hijackers held multiple driver's licenses and aliases. Lawmakers decided states needed to do a better job preventing fraud and abuse. But the Real ID Act of 2005 hasn't worked out the way people thought it would.

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (Department of Homeland Security): Real ID, in a way, is DOA.

CORNISH: That's Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a recent hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Sec. NAPOLITANO: The states agree that Real ID is too rigid and needlessly expensive in mandating how states meet their security goals.

CORNISH: The Real ID program says that for every person applying for a driver's license, states are supposed to authenticate their birth certificate, Social Security number and citizenship status. Then states are supposed to make electronic copies of that information and link their databases to prevent people from getting multiple licenses from different states. National Governors Association President Jim Douglas, a Republican from Vermont, says compliance would cost states billions of dollars.

Mr. JIM DOUGLAS (President, National Governors Association): While the objectives of Real ID are laudable, the law represents an unworkable and an unfunded mandate that fails to make us more secure. I really believe we need a better mousetrap.

CORNISH: At least 13 states agree. They have passed laws refusing to participate - even though it could mean their state's driver's licenses wouldn't be accepted as identification at airports. So lawmakers really have no choice but to take a second look, says Ohio Republican George Voinovich.

Senator GEORGE VOINOVICH (Republican, Ohio): What everyone ought to understand is that Real ID, five years later, did not get implemented, okay? It's not implemented. And why didn't it get implemented? It's because Congress did not sit down with the people that were impacted by the legislation and get their thoughts on how you could go about making this possible.

CORNISH: Voinovich is backing new legislation by Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka, called Pass ID, which would cost less. The Homeland Security Committee plans to consider it tomorrow, but it's already raised red flags for some.

Ms. JANICE KEPHART (Center for Immigration Studies): They do not need to undo all of Real ID just to redo most of it under another name.

CORNISH: Janice Kephart is with the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports strict limits on immigration. Kephart said she's against the Pass ID bill because it eases up on some expensive verification requirements for some background documents. And it drops a key provision that would make the new licenses required for air travel. That was supposed to be a major incentive to get states onboard.

Ms. KEPHART: It would infuse tremendous amount of confusion into a process already. What needs to happen is that Real ID needs to be properly funded and moved forward. If they want to change the name of it to Pass ID - fine, but we do not need a new law.

CORNISH: In the House, the bill's original sponsor says he is ready to fight any attempt to water down the bill: Congressman James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin.

Representative JAMES SENSENBRENNER (Republican, Wisconsin): The governors in the states are going to have to step up to the bat and realize that they have both a moral, legal and financial responsibility to issue driver's licenses that are secure.

CORNISH: But backers of the Pass ID legislation insist the licenses will still be secure. States would not have to link their databases, but they would still have to adopt new licenses that are machine readable and tamperproof. Plus, the Pass ID proposal would give more money to states to get started. Supporters say, with these changes, states are much more likely to comply with a secure ID program.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.

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