The federal government has granted Minnesota a little breathing room in its race to comply with the federal Real ID law, but not as much time as Gov. Mark Dayton and other state officials say they need to fully implement the changes.
Dayton's office announced this week that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has agreed to grant Minnesota a "grace period" that runs through Jan. 22, 2018. That allows Minnesotans to keep using their driver's licenses to get through airport security and onto military bases and some other federal buildings — rather than needing an upgraded, Real ID-compliant license that comes with stricter security checks.
What happens after that remains unclear. The state's plan to roll out Real ID licenses calls for the new IDs to be available in October 2018 at the earliest, and federal officials did not grant Dayton's request to extend the state's grace period until then.
In September, Dayton's office said, federal officials assured Minnesota that "states which continue to make progress with compliance will continue to be granted extensions."
Minnesota has lagged behind other states in complying with the 2005 Real ID Act, a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that was meant to set minimum standards for all state-issued driver's licenses and IDs.
Dayton and the Legislature approved a Real ID bill this year.
Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, said state officials hope the federal government will grant an extension through October 2020. That would give residents two years to make the switch to Real ID, assuming the state begins issuing the compliant licenses in October 2018.
Smith said he remains hopeful that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will work with Minnesota as it implements the law.
"The Dayton administration and the House of Representatives are doing everything we can to assist and make sure Real ID is brought forward to the citizens of Minnesota for those who want to get a Real ID," he said.
Smith and others in state government are also watching closely as the state works on a separate but related computer upgrade that could affect its ability to issue the new licenses.
A decadelong, $97 million project to modernize the software system the state uses to process vehicle and driver's licenses is in its final stages, and it is in the midst of a bumpy rollout of the update related to vehicle licensing.
That switch has been plagued with glitches and delays.
State officials say they have ironed out most of the problems, but many licensing office operators are worried about how the new system will fare when it's time to upgrade the driver's licensing portion of the program.