Beginning next year, Nevadans will have to prove their identity - if they ever again want to drive their car, take an airline flight or even claim their Social Security benefits. And they will probably have to stand in line for hours to do it.
Department of Motor Vehicles Director Ginny Lewis said to get a Real ID certified driver's license, everyone, even those who have lived in Nevada all their lives, will have to bring an original birth certificate, Social Security card, proof they are lawfully in the country and, for women whose names changed, a marriage license.
She said the Real ID Act, hidden in the 2005 appropriations bill which funded Hurricane Katrina relief and the Iraq War, requires DMV to verify all those documents before issuing anyone a driver's license effective in May 2008.
And she warned a joint meeting of the Assembly Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees Thursday that the crowd of more than a million Nevadans showing up at DMV's front doors will overload the system, causing long lines, frustration and anger among customers.
"It's going to be chaos when this starts," Lewis said. "DMVs across the country will exemplify bureaucracy at its finest."
She said those standards were imposed because of terror fears, but that the act was passed without a hearing and that most members of Congress didn't know it was in the money bill they voted for. And, she said, there is no federal money to do the job, which she estimated will cost Nevada alone more than $66 million.
In addition to losing their driver's license, people who can't get the Real ID won't be able to fly in an airplane. They won't be allowed in any federal building and won't be able to claim their Social Security or other benefits.
Lewis told lawmakers the federal regulations implementing the act aren't expected to be published for nearly a year and, until then, no one knows how tough they will be. She said she and other DMV directors have warned the Department of Homeland Security the law will "have a major impact on the public and impose unrealistic burdens on motor vehicle departments."
"Our greatest concern is that DHS is not listening," she said.
Until the rules are published, directors don't even know whether all drivers must return for relicensing in 2008 or just those whose licenses expire that year, she said.
Her proposed 2007-2009 budget asks for $30 million and 196 new employees to begin working on the Real ID requirements. But she said even with that, Nevadans can expect long lines because everyone will have to physically go to DMV to renew their license.
She said a critical part of that budget is to educate the public about the new rules.
"Our customers are going to be confused and frustrated," she said.
Lewis said she is discovering that many people don't have a birth certificate to show, including a number of people born in foreign countries or born more than 60 years ago in rural areas.
Assemblyman John Marvel, 80, and born on a ranch outside Battle Mountain, said he is one of those people.
Lewis said a growing number of federal lawmakers are becoming aware of the problems with the Real ID Act and are trying to get some changes made. She said DMV directors like herself are telling them "I don't think there's a state in the country that can implement this."
She said Nevada has for years required people seeking a driver's license to show a birth certificate, Social Security card or other identification. She said states already working to prevent fraudulent IDs should be given some breaks, especially for those who have been licensed in Nevada for 10 or 20 years or more.
And, she said, states need the ability to make exceptions in cases such as those who have no birth certificate.
"I hope the federal government is going to give us some latitude," she said.
"I doubt it," said Assembly Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas.
She said one of the most frustrating things is that the federal law doesn't apply to the federal government itself.
"The federal government is not applying the same rules to the passport as they're imposing on us," she said.
And because of that, the Real ID Act won't accept a U.S. passport as proof of identification.
Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, suggested Arberry and Senate Finance Chairman Bill Raggio, R-Reno, send letters to Nevada's congressional delegation expressing their concerns and asking for changes as well as funding for what Lewis said may cost more than $11 billion nationwide.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.
Number of licensed drivers in Nevada: 1,673,634
Annual renewals: 420,000
New licenses issued each year: 50,000
DMV visits required by Real ID: 470,000
Source: Nevada DMV, as of Jan. 7, 2007