By PHIL ATTINGER

Staff Writer

SEBRING — If you don’t have a gold star near the top of your Florida driver’s license, and you plan to fly or visit a federal building, you’ll need to get one.

The Transportation Security Administration wants people to remember that beginning Oct. 1, 2020, every traveler must present a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, or other acceptable form of identification, to fly within the United States.

“They want people to be who they say they are,” said Highlands County Tax Collector Eric Zwayer.

He said the move to establish secure identification stems from the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001. Many of the men who committed the attack had obtained state-issued driver’s licenses — most of them from Florida — under assumed names

They then used those licenses to board airliners they then hijacked and used as flying bombs.

Now, Florida teaches local tax collector staff on how to recognize both foreign and domestic identity documents, and which ones might be false.

“There’s very little of that in Highlands County,” Zwayer said.

By “very little,” he means less than 1%.

Right now, he said, approximately 90% of Florida residents already have a gold star on their driver’s licenses. Of the remaining 10%, he said, most probably have documentation to prove who they are, but just haven’t gotten around to filing it.

Driver’s licenses are on an eight-year renewal cycle, Zwayer said. In some cases, people may have renewed online, which up until now they have been able to do, meaning they may have gone as much as 16 years between visits to the local tax collector or state-run department of motor vehicles for a driver’s license update.

Once they have confirmed their identity under the REAL-ID process, they don’t have to confirm it again, and can simply renew their license when it’s due.

Also, replacing a lost license or damaged license is as easy as always, once the gold star is in the system.

Likewise, an immigrant who has legal status as a U.S. also goes through the REAL-ID identity paperwork process with a tax collector’s office to receive that gold star.

Whether a citizen or legal resident, once a person has confirmed his or her identity and has a gold star on their license, they are free like others to travel on an airline inside the United States after Oct. 1, 2020.

Some immigrants, depending on their status, such as a work visa, may have to renew a driver’s license more often, such as annually.

However, they also must go through the REAL-ID process and once they have been confirmed, their driver’s license also would function as a REAL-ID compliant identification.

Like a citizen, Zwayer said, once they have confirmed their identity, they also may simply renew a license when it’s due.

Zwayer said his staff also must make additional effort to check on whether or not someone has a license suspended or revoked for non-payment of a court fine.

However, Zwayer said his staff is there to work with people.

“One of our big mottos is to be an advocate, not an adversary,” Zwayer said.

To confirm their identification, drivers need to present the following:

• A birth certificate.

• A Social Security card or W-2 tax form — not a Medicare card.

• Two forms of mail, such as utility bills, to confirm residency.

• Any documents confirming a name change, such as a marriage license.

The most difficult part for most people seems to be the birth certificate, Zwayer said, simply because requesting one from an out-of-state place of birth can be difficult if someone can’t go there personally.

Also, for some women who have been married for several decades and recently lost their spouse, retrieving the marriage certificate can be a bit cumbersome, he said.

Still, Zwayer said, getting a gold star on a driver’s license removes a lot of difficulty. TSA officials have said they will do everything possible to prepare partners and the traveling public for the REAL ID deadline next year.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske has said security requirements of the REAL ID Act will dramatically enhance and improve commercial aviation security.

Travelers will begin seeing new signs at airports to remind people that REAL ID-compliant licenses or other acceptable forms of ID will be mandatory for air travel starting Oct. 1, 2020.

Anyone unable to verify their identity with such documents will not be permitted to enter a TSA checkpoint and will not be allowed to fly, Pekoske said in a TSA memo.

The accepted travel identification will include:

• REAL-ID compliant driver’s license or identification card

• U.S. passport.

• U.S. passport card.

• DHS trusted traveler card (Global Entry, NEXUS, SENTRI, FAST).

• U.S. military identification.

• Permanent resident card.

• Border crossing card.

• DHS-designated enhanced driver’s license.

• Federally recognized, tribal-issued photo identification.

• Foreign government-issued passport.

• Canadian provincial driver’s license or an Indian and Northern Affairs Canada card.

• Transportation worker identification credential.

• U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Employment Authorization Card (I-766).

For further details about flying with a REAL ID or to download and print informational materials, visit tsa.gov/real-id.

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