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Get Ready for Travel Nightmares When REAL ID Kicks In

Dan Daley • February 2020The Biz • February 9, 2020

The REAL ID marking consists of a star emblem in the upper right corner of a state-issued driver’s license or DMV ID card.

There’s something in your pocket that you need to fix.

Now that I have your attention, please note that an impending change in Homeland Security regulations will mean that every U.S. citizen will need to update the most commonly used identification document: the state-issued driver’s license. As of Oct. 1, 2020, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA — those pleasant folks you meet at airport security) will begin enforcing a rule that every traveler must present a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, or other acceptable form of identification, to fly within the United States. REAL ID is an enhanced form of identification that meets more highly detailed security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards.

Getting REAL ID-compliant means showing up at your local DMV office, which will issue you a new license once you present them with certain required proofs of identity and U.S. residency (tour managers take note, you know what I’m talking about). These can include documentation that proves your date of birth and your name, something like a passport or birth certificate. In addition, you’ll need proof of your social security number. That must either be the original card, a W-2, or something similar that proves the number. Then you need two documents proving residence. That could be your deed, a mortgage bill, tax return, utility bills, etc. Fees for the REAL ID vary by state: Pennsylvania, for example, charges a one-time $30 fee to get a Real ID issued; California, New York, Illinois, and others, however, charge the same amount whether you get a REAL ID or a regular one. All this to get a new license with a translucent star affixed to the upper right-hand corner.

Many Americans who travel infrequently may not bother with REAL ID, instead use a U.S. passport or other form of photo identification issued by the federal government such as a military ID. But touring professionals and frequent business travelers are going to want to get REAL ID’ed for the same reasons that most of us have already gotten the TSA’s Pre-Check clearance: so we’re not stuck behind the masses headed to Disneyland or Disney World fumbling with their shoes and phones ahead of us on the security line. In fact, it’s also probably a good idea to go ahead and spend the $179 it costs, and take the time it takes to qualify, for CLEAR — an iris scan-based security expediting program — and Global Entry which, for $100 for five years, gets you through U.S. Border Control and Customs inspection faster and easier when coming back from overseas flights. It’s worth noting that CLEAR members also qualify for expedited screening processing at sports stadiums and other partner venues where CLEAR is used to confirm identity. As stadiums and arenas become more widely used a performance venues, that could be a nice extra to have.

“We advise all our clients to register for TSA Global Entry, CLEAR and new REAL ID programs,” Nick Gold, owner of Nashville-based Entertainment Travel, which books tour itineraries for artists including Cheap Trick, the Charlie Daniels Band and Alice Cooper, told me. Gold says he’ll be pushing more info out regularly to his clients as the Oct. 1 deadline approaches. Personally, he’s not waiting. “I got mine last July,” he added.

‡‡ Annoying, But Worth the Trouble and Cost

These identification “enhancements” are annoying and costly, but as you may have noticed, more people are flying than ever before. A record 257.4-million passengers flew just over the past summer — peak touring and festival season — according to trade group Airlines For America. Unless you’re flying private, you’re going to want to use every trick in the book to survive airport experiences that increasingly resemble shopping malls on Black Friday.

Nonetheless, expect that the transition period from regular to enhanced ID is going to be problematic. Here’s the TSA’s no-nonsense response when asked about what happens to travelers who show up without a compliant ID: “Travelers who do not present a REAL ID-compliant license or acceptable alternative beginning October 1, 2020 will not be permitted through the security checkpoint.” (My italics.) And the REAL-ID process, which began rolling out over a year ago, is itself still in some flux — New Jersey only began issuing REAL IDs recently, and as of this writing there were two states, Oklahoma and Oregon, that won’t be ready to until April and July, respectively. The REAL ID deadline is after the summer vacation rush and before Thanksgiving, providing about a seven-week window in between the heaviest travel periods. But TSA could have timed it better by waiting until January or February, when travel volume is at its annual ebb (and the entertainment industry is consumed by the awards season). There may be a grace period of some kind offered by the TSA when October rolls around, but they’re certainly not going to announce one long in advance, which would only serve to encourage large-scale procrastination, so I wouldn’t count on one. The best time to stand in line down at the DMV is now, rather than suffer through an even longer one at the airport.

‡‡         California’s New Indie Contractor Law

And as long as we’re on the subject of changing government regulations, let’s look at California’s recently enacted AB-5, meant to address inequities in what’s come to be known as the gig economy, spurred in particular by ride-share drivers. However, those working in the music business are the original members of the “gig” economy, and the way the law is written, it could backfire on everyone big time.

Intended to give workers who perform as though they were employees the same rights and protections as actual employees — such as minimum wage and overtime, workers’ compensation coverage, unemployment insurance — the new law already has entertainment companies, who rely heavily on freelancers, looking to leave the state. They and the freelancers they hire, from front-of-house and monitor mixers to system techs, are in danger of becoming collateral damage to the way the piecemeal work of Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and other new-tech workers is being treated.

If the law was limited to that new and largely unfortunate cohort of digital Okies in America, it might accomplish what it set out to do. But as written and interpreted thus far, it could ripple dangerously through the entire music industry, compelling your current clients to either make you an employee or leave the law’s jurisdiction. I expect AB-5 will be amended fairly quickly once everyone impacted yells loudly enough, but it’s a reminder that the foundations of our longtime business model are — like the technologies that power it — subject to constant disruption.

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