Feds may require Utah to redesign, reissue all driver licenses to make sure they comply with airport security

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Passengers go through security at Salt Lake City International Airport Thursday January 15, 2015.

Utah lawmakers are upset that the federal government is trying to make the state reprint and reissue all of its driver licenses — to include a gold star on front — or its residents might not be able to use them to get through airport security.

It’s a problem that could cost the state up to $5 million.

The star would allow Transportation Security Administration officers to see at a glance that Utah reviewed birth certificates or passports to prove that license holders are U.S. citizens.

For a few years, such efforts had prevented renewing licenses by mail and created long lines as drivers brought in documents in person. But the hard-earned certification could disappear if licenses lack the gold star by Oct. 1, 2020.

“It truly, honestly is because we don’t have a star on the front of our drivers license?” asked an incredulous Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, as state officials broke the news. “Seriously? Honestly? We’ve collected all the right documents. We’ve done all the verification … but you want to see the cute little star on the front?”

Driver License Division Director Chris Caras told lawmakers this week that the Department of Homeland Security deemed Utah fully compliant with rules put in place in 2012. It did not require a gold star back then, but there was talk of eventually requiring some such symbol.

He said as the state applied for recertification recently, it was told it would be denied unless the gold star appeared on all licenses by October 2020. Current licenses do not include the star.

“It’s a card design flaw,” Caras said.

Hutchinson, House chairman of the Legislature’s Executive Offices and Criminal Justice Appropriations subcommittee, encouraged state officials to push back. He said it is unfair to make the state reissue all its licenses. Instead, he says it should be allowed to replace them over five years as drivers renew licenses.

His panel voted to write a letter seeking that, and he urged consideration of a resolution by the entire Legislature, plus asking the Utah congressional delegation to push for more time.

Caras warned, however, that the longer the state waits to change its licenses, the more expensive it may become.

He said waiting until just before October 2020 to send out all new licenses could cost up to $5 million. If it changes the design quickly and starts using it with renewals, the state may save up to $1.5 million.

Caras also warned that he likely needs specific permission from the Legislature to change the design of the licenses. The Legislature convenes in January.