Gov. Mark Dayton will ask federal authorities for an extension to give the state time to comply with new Real ID requirements, a move that could end uncertainty for air travelers.
A Dayton spokesman said Tuesday that the governor plans to finalize a letter requesting the extension by the end of the week, and top legislative leaders of both parties said they pledged to support the effort.
Officials in New York, New Hampshire and Louisiana have recently received extensions, leaving Minnesota as the last state in the nation that’s not fully compliant with a Jan. 1 deadline for more secure driver’s licenses and identification cards. Under federal law, the IDs are to be backed by verified proof of birth, residence, Social Security number and citizenship or lawful status in the country. If the state fails to act, travelers would be barred from boarding domestic flights with only their Minnesota identification cards.
“It’s hard to imagine that legislators are going to actually contemplate playing chicken with the feds and risk people’s ability to travel conveniently around the country,” said state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, chairman of the Transportation Committee.
An extension would avert a costly special legislative session, since the Legislature won’t reconvene again until March. A final decision on when enforcement will officially begin is expected by year’s end.
For Minnesota to eventually comply, legislators will have to undo a 2009 measure that banned the implementation of a secure state identification like the kind the federal government is demanding. Minnesota’s law went as far as prohibiting the state from even preliminary measures, such as obtaining cost estimates or negotiating with federal officials.
Born out of recommendations by the 9/11 Commission, the Real ID law stoked deep skepticism among rank-and-file legislators, who called it an example of federal overreach tantamount to the creation of a national identification card. They also said the information collected would be a constant target by identity thieves, concerns that drove the Legislature’s decision to defy the federal government.
Legislators have been getting blasted with messages and phone calls from constituents who feared their Minnesota-issued identification cards would be turned away as a form of valid ID at airport security screenings.
“Believe me, I understand that if on Jan. 1, people can’t get on an airplane, this is going to be a huge deal,” said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. “Our No. 1 priority is making sure that people can travel and get on an airplane Jan. 1.”
“That’s how the legislative process often works,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. “It’s constituent correspondence that drives the action of legislators,” noting that he himself had received nearly a dozen of e-mails from his constituents on the issue.
“If I’m hearing from constituents, others are also,” Bakk said.
Daudt and Bakk said they’re hopeful that a letter by Dayton would satisfy homeland security officials who have shown a willingness to work with states that have moved toward compliance.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
State officials estimate that without a legislative change, more than 4 million Minnesotans could find themselves unable to board planes or even enter some federal buildings or military bases.
State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, remained staunchly opposed to efforts to comply with the federal law. He said that despite assurance from homeland security officials, the new cards will have a chip embedded with private information that he warned could be used inappropriately by the federal government. “Once it’s established, it’s a major platform for collecting all sorts of data,” he said.
Critics like Limmer have also expressed skepticism that the federal government would really block people from air travel if their state did not comply.
Limmer said that more than 30 states originally sought to block the implementation of Real ID requirements, and said Minnesota shouldn’t capitulate.
“Unfortunately, the federal government now … is using a pretty nasty club to force all states into submission, by threatening that individual state citizens would not be able to board airline travel domestically,” Limmer said.
The Real ID measure came about during President George W. Bush’s term, but implementation was delayed until the next administration. President Obama has supported a cheaper alternative that had broader and bipartisan support, but it never became law.
Other legislators said they will move ahead to bring Minnesota into compliance, while at the same time addressing concerns related to data privacy.
Dibble and state Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, are expected to hold hearings early next year to begin readying a bill that would be introduced at the start of the legislative session.
Dibble said they would look at other states’ arrangements on Real ID compliance but was confident legislators would find a solution.
Daudt acknowledged that some legislators still have concerns about privacy issues, but he is hopeful “we can overcome all of the objections of members and work toward a solution that makes everybody happy.”