Tribune editorial: Utah driver licenses need stars upon thars

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

“Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars. Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small. You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.”

— Dr. Seuss, “The Sneetches,” 1953

As far as anyone can tell, no Sneetch ever tried to board a airplane, or enter a facility of the United States government, with or without a star on their belly.

But for people, and their driver licenses, those stars matter very much indeed.

Which is why the Utah Legislature seems likely to, and should, quit its belly-aching and move to start issuing driver licenses with gold stars on them. It is a way for TSA agents and other security folks to see at a glance whether the license was issued by a state that is taking the federally required steps to ensure that the bearer of each licenses is an American citizen.

There was a time, as recently as 2013, when the federal government considered Utah licenses sufficiently secure because the state did, per Department of Homeland Security expectations, require a birth certificate or passport to get a full driver license. But this year, when the state set out to renew its driver license design with DHS, the feds decided that the no-star version wasn’t good enough. They want all the licenses to have stars upon thars by Oct. 1, 2020.

The Utah Driver License Division can’t do this on its own because, in 2010, our Legislature passed a law forbidding the state to comply with that part of the federal REAL ID Act. Going along with the most recent federal ruling, so that Utahns may retain the relative ease of boarding jets and entering federal buildings, will thus require another act of the Legislature.

Which, to hear some of the conversation that came out of a recent committee meeting, our lawmakers seem willing to do.

Certainly, this change of political heart has nothing to do with the fact that, when Utah lawmakers last bit their thumbs at this unfunded federal mandate, there was a Democrat in the White House. Or that now, when they appear willing to comply, it is under a Republican administration.

Either way, the feds have the power and the duty to set standards for airline security and entry into federal facilities. If we think those standards are too strict — or too loose — we can ask Congress to order changes. But, unless and until that happens, what DHS says on these matters goes.

And the Utah Legislature should go along and get this matter cleaned up very soon.