Gilmore: make time to save time for people getting REAL IDs

State Sen. Brenda Gilmore

Over the past few months there has been much contention over Tennessee’s implementation of the federal REAL ID law of 2005. The measure established new security standards for state-issued drivers’ licenses and identification cards. Beginning October 1, 2020, all persons must have a REAL ID-compliant license to enter certain federal buildings and board commercial flights within the United States.

With the deadline looming, wait times are exceeding an hour at the 44 drivers license centers issuing new REAL IDs in Tennessee. Fellow lawmakers and community members are appalled over the long lines, unclear paperwork requirements and lack of communication to customers.

It is past time to address the effect the REAL ID has on Tennesseans who work for a living.

For many of us, the cost of getting a REAL ID is more than the $28 fee. People who punch a clock may be forced to take time off work. For some elderly residents, finding or obtaining an original copy of a birth certificate may be nearly impossible. Others have to make expensive accommodations for childcare as they wait in long lines.

Although last year’s budget included funds specifically for issuing REAL IDs to Tennesseans, it remains unclear whether or not the Department of Safety can adequately handle the ever-growing crowd of people looking to update their licenses.

While hundreds of Tennesseans wait in lines each day at driver services centers, hours would be saved if more concerted efforts were made to notify the public of time-saving information.

For example, many Tennesseans are unaware they need to provide four documents (originals, not photocopies) to obtain a REAL ID, including:

  • One document that proves citizenship or legal presence, such as a birth certificate or current U.S. Passport;
  • One document showing your name and full Social Security Number, such as Social Security card or the most recent W-2 you received for your tax records.
  • Two documents showing your name and physical address, such as your Tennessee-issued driver’s license, a utility bill or vehicle registration.

You can find a full list of approved documents at <tn.gov/TNREALID/> or <tn.gov/TNREALID/>.

Some people have waited in long lines only to be turned away at the desk because they brought a photocopy instead of the original of a required document. More adequately advertising this information can save time saved for both the customer and driver’s license centers.

The long lines and rising frustrations can also be mitigated by adequately informing Tennesseans that more than 40 county clerk’s offices in the state can also issue REAL IDs. While there is an increased fee of $4 for applying at the county clerk’s office, many Tennesseans may feel it’s worth it if they can avoid a slow-moving line.

Efforts should also be made to encourage more county clerks to offer the REAL ID service. According to The Tennessean: “Of the nine counties with the state’s 11 busiest driver’s license centers, only three county clerks offer driver’s license services.”

By encouraging larger counties to offer driver’s license services through county clerks and better advertising key facts, the 160,000 people visiting driver’s license centers each month will lose less time at work and gain back more time with their families and communities.

Federal guidelines for establishing REAL IDs were announced in 2005. Yet 14 years later, our state officials are scrambling to provide Tennesseans with compliant identification cards.

Now we have to move quickly because it’s important to our economy and public safety that people can efficiently fly around the country and enter federal buildings with a driver’s license.

Tennesseans deserve better than ever-growing lines and a lack of effort. On behalf of many concerned Tennesseans, I urge the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security to find more time saving measures to improve the REAL ID wait time.

(Brenda Gilmore represents District 19 in the Tennessee Senate.)