The state’s misguided holdout threatens to burden the traveling public.
State governments can resist clear directives from the federal government for only so long without suffering uncomfortable consequences. In the matter of compliance with a 2005 federal law requiring enhanced, identity-verified driver’s licenses and identity cards — better known as Real ID — time is almost up.
Unless the 2017 Legislature acts to begin issuing Real IDs, Minnesotans will not be able to board a commercial airplane beginning Jan. 22, 2018, without presenting additional, federally authorized proof of identity, such as a U.S. passport.
So say both officials in DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration and the Republican legislative sponsors of bills to bring Minnesota into the federal fold on Real ID. They advise that this state is out of grace periods and deadline extensions. Already, Minnesotans carrying only a state driver’s license are being denied access to federal installations such as military bases and nuclear power plants.
The looming threat should be sufficient for legislators to put aside their objections — principled though they may be — and act soon to give Minnesotans wider access to Real IDs. (Minnesotans can get one version now in 13 locations by paying an additional $15 fee.) A state that is home to a major airline hub should not even hint that it might be willing to inconvenience the traveling public by failing to act.
Only three states — Minnesota, Missouri and Washington — continue to resist the enhanced identification requirement enacted by a Republican-controlled Congress a dozen years ago at the urging of the federal 9/11 Commission. Plenty of other states initially objected to what they deemed to be federal overreach with the potential for privacy violations. But elsewhere, those concerns have largely faded with time and experience.
For Minnesotans who still object to Real ID, the bill’s sponsors are offering an opt-out. At no additional cost, individuals would be able to stick with the existing driver’s license and its lesser requirements for proof of identity and residence.
Those who think the new administration in Washington will allow three reluctant states to hold out indefinitely are mistaken, reports state Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, the compliance bill’s House sponsor. “I’ve spoken to them,” Smith said of his conversations with people expected to serve in the Trump-era Department of Homeland Security. “They are not going to change this.”
Opposition to Real ID was so strong in Minnesota that the 2009 Legislature banned state agencies from so much as contacting federal agencies about the requirement. Thankfully, that ban was lifted in 2016. But a squabble over driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants contributed to a failure to authorize Real IDs last session.
It’s worrisome that the immigration issue has again popped into Real ID discussions this year. A state administrative rule now bans issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. The House Real ID bill would put that ban in statute, so that legislative action would be required to remove it. That feature is hotly opposed by advocates for immigration reform and by the Legislature’s DFLers, whose “no’ votes contributed to the bill’s squeaker 12-11 approval in a House committee Wednesday.
For reasons of public safety, we favor issuing licenses to all drivers, as do many of this state’s law-enforcement officials. But that’s a controversial question that need not be answered in connection with Real IDs. The federal clock is ticking. Already, some Minnesotans will need to renew their four-year driver’s licenses before they expire in order to keep flying without a passport. Legislators should send a clean, bipartisan bill to Dayton’s desk ASAP.