Proposed law would give N.H. drivers a Real ID license option

(Published in print: Thursday, September 24, 2015)

Lawmakers will consider a proposal next year that would give New Hampshire residents the option to buy a driver’s license that also serves as identification to board airplanes and enter federal buildings under the Real ID program.

“Most people in New Hampshire probably don’t want to be bothered by any of this; they’re not flying around the country,” said Rep. Steven Smith, a Charlestown Republican and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which will hear the proposal when the Legislature returns to session in January. “For people that do want to use a license – to fly, drive to Canada, visit federal facilities – we’ll have an optional enhanced license that they can pay extra for to get.”

No price has been set for the optional license, but Smith said, “It’ll be cheaper than a passport.”

The bill is still being written, but Smith said it is designed to create another option for state residents if the federal government imposes the Real ID mandate for airline travel, as it has been trying to do for a decade.

“If you don’t want to participate, you don’t have to,” he said.

New Hampshire is one of only four states that has not agreed to change its driver’s license to fit Real ID standards, leading to concerns that as early as 2016, the license may no longer be used as identification when boarding a plane, entering most military bases and visiting some federal facilities, among other things.

That deadline is far from certain, as it has been extended a half-dozen times in the past decade, but it led to a spate of recent online articles implying that the change was imminent.

The resulting outcry was so great that Manchester-Boston Regional Airport tweeted Tuesday that people didn’t need to worry, leading to a Monitor story outlining the situation, which in turn spurred publicity about the proposed bill.

“By passing this New Hampshire-specific bill, we will still be able to use our current IDs without a problem for travel and other purposes during a 5-year transition period,” said New Hampshire House Speaker Pro Tempore Sherman Packard, a Londonderry Republican, in a press release Wednesday. “We anticipate giving citizens the option to opt-out of the Real ID program if they object to providing certain personal information required for a federally accepted ID. We anticipate that most Granite Staters will choose to opt-in and have an ID they can use universally.”

If legislators pass and Gov. Maggie Hassan signs this bill – she has supported Real ID in the past – current driver’s licenses would continue to be usable as identification until they had to be renewed, five years after they were obtained.

New Hampshire opposition to Real ID has hinged on several factors, but the biggest source of concern has been privacy since Real ID would place information about all drivers across the country – including photographs and Social Security numbers – into a database accessible by many government agencies.

As a sign of opposition to such a practice, Smith noted that New Hampshire lawmakers passed a law forbidding the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles from giving state driver’s license information to the federal government.

If the proposed bill passes, the only change to New Hampshire drivers licenses that are not part of Real ID would be to add the sentence “not valid for federal ID,” Smith said.

New York, Minnesota and Louisiana have also declined to mandate Real ID standards for their driver’s licenses, as has American Samoa.

Real ID requires applicants to submit photo ID, birth certificate, proof of Social Security number and documentation of name and principal address. Under current federal laws it would not be required for registering to vote or to receive federal benefits.


(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313,, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


Monitor staff  Wednesday, September 23, 2015

(Published in print: Thursday, September 24, 2015)