Missouri is getting $17 million to help develop and test a project for a Homeland Security program many states across the nation have been reluctant to embrace.
News of the federal Real ID Demonstration Grants, which also awarded millions of dollars to other states, came Friday. Officials with the Missouri Department of Revenue said the money will help the state develop and test a national "verification hub," a key factor in allowing states to validate licenses and identification cards.
"We would be a single access point for different states," said David Griffith, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Revenue. "Missouri is in the position to improve security for all state drivers' licenses."
The goal of the Real ID Act of 2005, which was a recommendation of the 911 Commission, is to improve the security, integrity and protection of the licensing and identification process. The federal government contends those improvements will help prevent terrorism and reduce fraud.
But some states have viewed the act as an unfunded mandate and critics say it's a violation of privacy for the government to have access to so much information.
Missouri Rep. Jim Guest, a King City Republican, has been a vocal opponent of Real ID.
"I would oppose that even if they fund it," he said Friday. "I don't think you can put a price on your privacy. This nation is at a crossroads right now, and if we go down the road and lose more freedoms, we'll never get them back."
The new requirements of the act went into effect on May 11. But Missouri, Kansas and most other states were granted extensions through 2009, said Amy Kudwa, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Washington.
There are 18 benchmarks states need to adhere to comply with the Real ID Act by 2014. If states don't eventually comply, their residents may not be able to board airplanes with their state driver's licenses.
"Some states have done more than half of the benchmarks," Kudwa said. " ... The goal of Real ID is to raise the bar at a consistent level across the board."
Each of the 48 states that applied for federal grants to assist with the program will get some funding.
While Missouri is set to lead the development of the "verification hub," four other states will also be instrumental, according to a Homeland Security news release.
Florida, Indiana, Nevada and Wisconsin will each receive $1.2 million to partner with Missouri for the hub testing.
Eventually, other states and territories will connect to the verification hub and have the capability to verify applicants' source documents.