SALT LAKE CITY — Defiance, as it turns out, sometimes comes with a cost.
Back in 2010, the Utah Legislature was in the mood to push back on federal policy changes under President Barack Obama it saw as "unfunded mandates." To that end, lawmakers begrudgingly adopted changes under the Department of Homeland Security's new Real ID Act, requiring thorough documentation, like birth certificates or valid passports, to confirm the identities of Utah driver's license applicants. But legislators also included a clause stipulating that no further changes would be implemented without attached federal subsidy.
Problem is, the Utah law passed before DHS had finalized the Real ID requirements and a critical flaw, in the form of a single gold star, will now cost Utah taxpayers between $2 million to $3.4 million, depending on when a new piece of legislation can be pushed through.
That gold star, to be affixed to the front face of all Utah drivers' licenses, must be in place to be considered acceptable identification for things like passing through TSA security at airports or entering federal facilities. While the drop-dead deadline for the changes is Oct. 1, 2020, Utah is caught in a Real ID compliance renewal process, required by DHS, that makes the changes much more critical.
Utah Driver License Division Director Christopher Caras told the Transportation Interim Committee Wednesday that attempts by the state to get a deadline extension have been unsuccessful and the process to get stars on the licenses of qualified drivers was imminent, or else.
"We thought we had until (Oct. 1, 2020) to resolve this," Caras said. "But when the recertification came forward, the timeline changed."
Caras said every month of delay on beginning the process, which will require the license division sending out new ID's with the gold stars to all Utah drivers who have obtained a Real ID compliant license, will cost the state tens of thousands of dollars.
"We estimate if we could not start up until March or April ... the cost will be about $3.4 million," Caras said. "Every month earlier that we can start, we can drop the cost by about $80,000."
Committee members agreed unanimously to have a bill prepared to address the issue for the consideration of the full Legislature in an expected November special session.
Toll lane busters
A new system under consideration by the Utah Department of Transportation would put the kibosh on local toll lane violators and create a way to collect tolls from out-of-state and rental car drivers who may be gaming the system.
Last session's SB71 required UDOT to get the ball rolling on a new method for policing those drivers who are making use of Utah's toll roads, almost all of which are HOV-only express lanes. While current enforcement relies entirely on the Utah Highway Patrol to monitor and cite those in single-occupancy vehicles using the lanes without paying, new license plate reading technology would automate the process while making it much more efficient. The technology uses sensors and digital cameras to snap pics of the plates on every car using the HOV lanes. A computerized system would then compare that information with the list of those with valid HOV permits.
UDOT operations director Jason Davis told transportation committee members his agency was also working with rental car companies and neighbor states to work out a system of accountability for out-of-state and rental car drivers who use Utah toll lanes but fail to pay.
Some new potential penalties are also outlined in SB71, including withholding registration renewals for those who have outstanding toll fees.
Davis said research on the new system will continue, including gathering data on the number of out-of-state drivers using Utah's toll lanes.