Utah Senate, House vote to update driver licenses that are in conflict with federal rules

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Security line at the Salt Lake International Airport in Salt Lake City Thursday October 5, 2017.

Utahns will soon see a gold star on their driver licenses, with the state Senate and House of Representatives voting Monday to repeal a state law in conflict with federal rules for identification cards.

The repeal bill, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, was considered by lawmakers during a special legislative session that also included debate on medical marijuana legalization and construction funding for a new state prison.

Harper said states have until October 2020 to fully comply with the Department of Homeland Security rules. If Utah’s driver licenses continued to be out of compliance at that point, he said, it could result in residents being barred from entering federal facilities or passing through airport security without federally issued identification, like a passport.

And because noncompliant licenses will need to be re-issued, Harper said, each month of delay in making the change could result in a roughly $80,000 cost to the state.

“If we do it now versus in the [2019] general session, we save the state nearly half a million dollars,” Harper said.

But in the House, Rep. Ken Ivory argued for giving state residents the ability to opt out of the federally-compliant licenses, saying people should have power over how their information is shared with the U.S. government. His bill amendment would’ve allowed residents to stick with the licenses they have now.

“What that does is allows an option to the citizens of the state of Utah that may want to preserve their privacy,” Ivory, R-West Jordan, said.

Rep. Eric Hutchings, the bill’s House sponsor, said he was open to further work on protecting the information of the state’s drivers. But kicking the can down the road on the entire issue will only cost the state money and inconvenience residents, he said.

“The citizens of Utah are going to have to have this if they want to get on a plane and fly,” Hutchings, R-Kearns, said.

The House approved the legislation by a vote of 47-23, short of the two-thirds majority required for immediate implementation. The bill will instead take effect in February, potentially costing the state more than $100,000 that would otherwise be saved as additional licenses are in need of updating.

Senators voted 25-0 for the bill, which repeals a 2005 state law that specifically prohibited the state from complying with the federal REAL Act. The state law was passed by Utah lawmakers in protest of unfunded mandates from the federal government.

Tribune reporter Bethany Rodgers contributed to this report.