Sen. Novelle E. Francis, Jr. on Monday called for speedy action to bring Virgin Islands’ drivers licenses into compliance with REAL ID standards.
In a statement issued Monday, Francis pointed to the intention of the Department of Homeland Security to restrict the use of driver’s licenses for domestic air travel if the license is not REAL ID compliance.
Since taking office a year ago, Francis, the chair of the Committee on Homeland Security, Public Safety and Justice, has monitored the REAL ID issue. He recently met with Bureau of Motor Vehicles Director Lawrence Olive, for a status update of the territory’s efforts to achieve compliance and learned that the territory’s failure to achieve compliance "problematic."
Passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2005, the Real ID Act sets up standards for the issuance of drivers’ licenses and identification cards to safeguard against fraud and identity theft. The final rules were put in place in 2008, with a 2009 initial deadline. The territory and most states missed the deadline and there have been several extensions.
The territory has received $2.3 million in federal grants to implement the plan.
If the standards are put into effect and the territory is not in compliance, Virgin Islanders will no longer be able to use their driver’s licenses as identification for domestic air travel.
“In December 2014, Virgin Islanders witnessed the roll out of what we were told were REAL ID compliant licenses, yet here we are no closer to having this system in place,” Francis said. “It’s a slap in the face to the people of this territory, considering how much time and money have been spent so far. While I understand that Director Olive inherited this problem, we no longer have the luxury of time.”
The Department of Homeland Security has indicated that it will soon make a decision on whether the Transportation Security Administration would enforce the REAL ID standards. If announced, there would be a 120 day window before the law is enforced. If the Virgin Islands is not in compliance before the end of the 120 day period, residents would not be able to use their driver’s licenses for domestic air travel.
Francis is encouraging Virgin Islanders to apply for their passports or passport cards. He will also continue to monitor the Bureau’s progress on REAL ID compliance.
“At this point, several things can happen,” he stated. “The extension requested by Gov. Mapp can be granted, the territory can achieve compliance or residents can start making plans so they are not caught unprepared if the planned changes take effect.”