by Marcus Green
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – With an October 2020 deadline looming, Kentucky is scrapping its longstanding plan to let people get new airplane-friendly driver’s licenses from their local circuit court clerk’s offices.
Instead, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet wants to create regional locations across the state where drivers could apply for the Real ID licenses – cutting out the local offices where residents have gone for decades for their credentials.
Having county offices oversee the Real IDs, which can be used next fall to board domestic flights, is “not a sustainable long-term model,” Transportation Secretary Greg Thomas wrote in a Sept. 6 letter, a copy of which WDRB News obtained.
The cabinet is “making efforts to secure funding” for a regional approach and plans to work with state and local court officials to “quickly develop and execute a plan that is in the best interest of citizens,” Thomas wrote to the Kentucky Association of Circuit Court Clerks and the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Courts.
The Transportation Cabinet planned to address the new approach in an interview with WDRB scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
A spokeswoman for Kentucky’s software vendor, Idemia Identity & Security USA, which was to install it in each county, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
The change comes amid criticism of two pilot programs in Franklin and Woodford counties. Local circuit court clerks and lawmakers have complained about the additional workload on local offices that manage county courts in addition to the driver’s licensing duties.
Jefferson County Circuit Court Clerk David Nicholson said there have been “logistical and technological concerns” in recent months about the role of local clerks’ offices.
Nicholson said in a statement that he believes the new approach will “streamline the process and eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy.”
“Any regional model for credential issuance must include locations in Jefferson County due to our large population and the sheer volume of driver’s licenses issued in this community,” he said.
State Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican who represents parts of Jefferson and Oldham counties, said clerks in those counties have told him the move will be in citizens’ best interest.
“Having these regional facilities where we know it will be done properly and the lines won’t be as long and it won’t be interfering with other business — I think it’s a good decision,” Nemes said.
But the abrupt switch – abandoning the county-by-county approach that has been pursued since the legislature gave Kentucky the go-ahead to comply with the federal Real ID Act in 2017 — raises new questions about how the state intends to meet next year’s deadline for Real ID licenses.
On October 1, 2020, the Transportation Security Administration and other U.S. agencies no longer will accept Kentucky’s current licenses to board domestic flights or get into federal facilities like military bases and government buildings.
At that point, for example, Kentuckians would need the Real ID license or an existing license coupled with a passport or other valid federal ID to get on a plane.
Franklin and Woodford counties began processing Real ID licenses over the summer. But that launch was marked by long wait times – in part because local offices were now collecting and scanning multiple documents needed for the new licenses.
Last week, Franklin Circuit Clerk Amy Feldman tweeted that the Transportation Cabinet had begun taking applications for the Real ID licenses in the county.
In his letter, Thomas said those counties faced “significant unforeseen workload and staffing issues” after starting to offer the Real ID licenses.
He said the state won’t add scanning and other equipment needed for the beefed-up licenses elsewhere in Kentucky. Jefferson and the state’s other counties had expected to start offering them by the end of the year.
“This is not a sustainable long-term model if the state wants to provide adequate service to the public in its issuance of driver’s licenses and maintain its distinguished court services,” Thomas wrote.
All states and territories are required to comply with the 2005 Real ID Act, which Congress passed as a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission by next fall. It set new standards for personal identification cards, such as driver’s licenses. The goal is to make it harder to counterfeit or forge documents.
As the new credentials become available, Kentuckians will choose between two driver’s licenses.
One is called a “voluntary travel ID,” which meets the Real ID standards. It functions like a current Kentucky driver’s license, letting its holder drive, buy alcohol and other age-limited purchases, board domestic flights and enter military posts.
The other type is known as a “standard driver’s license,” which is similar to the current license. It will be good for driving, age-restricted purchases and entering federal buildings for basic services, but can’t be used on its own to board a domestic plane.
Kentucky’s circuit clerks would continue to issue the “standard” licenses, Thomas wrote in his letter.
But other documents reviewed by WDRB show that courts officials have struck a deal to turn over all driver’s licensing operations in the future to the Transportation Cabinet’s yet-to-be-established regional offices. However, that move would need legislative approval next winter, according to the clerks’ association.
If approved, that move almost certainly would force Kentuckians to travel farther to apply for driver’s licenses and ID cards.
This story will be updated.