HARRISBURG — Starting Saturday, Pennsylvania drivers who got their licenses prior to 2003 will be able to start the process of getting their identification verified for the new licenses that will comply with the federal REAL ID law.

REAL ID-compliant licenses will be needed to board airplanes or enter federal buildings beginning October 2020. The Department of Transportation plans to begin issuing the new form of license in March 2019, Deputy Secretary for Driver and Vehicle Services Kurt Myers said Monday.

The new licenses will satisfy federal requirements created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Pennsylvania is one of the last states to move to comply with the law, largely because the Department of Transportation was barred from cooperating with the REAL ID initiative until a 2017 state law undid a 2012 state law that forbid cooperation.

Not everyone will need a license that meets the new standards, Myers said. People who already have a passport wouldn't need the new license to fly and people who don't plan to fly or visit a federal building wouldn't need to meet the stepped-up identification, he said. Based on the experiences in other states, PennDOT only expects about 25 percent of drivers to go through the process of getting a REAL ID license, Myers said.

Pennsylvania was one of 16 states that originally refused to comply with the law out of concern that it would endanger residents’ privacy rights and essentially create a national driver’s license.

Faced with the prospect that Pennsylvanians would find themselves unable to board airplanes to fly domestically, lawmakers backtracked. Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 3 in May 2017, which opened the door for PennDOT to begin implementing the state’s rollout of the REAL ID-compliant licenses.

People who’ve obtained their license in Pennsylvania since 2003 have been able to get their identification pre-verified since March because the Department of Transportation has had digital forms of their identity verification documents on file. As a result, more than 200,000 drivers have already gotten their identification pre-verified.

People who obtained their driver’s licenses before 2003 must re-submit documentation to prove their identities, Myers said. They can do that starting on Saturday by visiting one of the state’s 71 driver’s license centers with their birth certificates and Social Security card, along with an unexpired driver’s license and a document demonstrating a current Pennsylvania residence, such as a utility bill or W-2 form.

To obtain a REAL ID, drivers will pay a one-time fee of $30, on top of the current renewal fee of $30.50.

When REAL IDs become available in March, pre-verified drivers may order their REAL ID online. Others can visit any PennDOT Driver’s License Center, have their documents verified and imaged, pay the one-time fee, and their REAL ID product will be mailed to them within seven to 10 days. A third option will be one of the REAL ID Centers being created by PennDOT.

PennDOT is retrofitting six existing driver’s license centers to allow for over-the-counter issuance of REAL ID — in Williamsport, Wilkes-Barre, Rockview in Centre County, Erie, Altoona and South 70th Street in Philadelphia. The department is also adding five new locations in the following regions: Pittsburgh, King of Prussia, Allentown, Harrisburg and Lancaster, Myers said.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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