The House voted Thursday to bring the state into compliance with the federal Real ID law, the first step in resolving potential travel problems for some Minnesotans.
But differences remain with the Senate. If the two chambers can't agree this year, the state could miss a January 2018 deadline that would leave Minnesotans needing a passport or some other acceptable identification — instead of a simple driver's license — to board an airplane or enter a federal building or military base.
Minnesota is now one of five states not in compliance with the 2005 federal law, which was enacted to tighten security at airports and federal facilities in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
"Minnesotans need certainty and our businesses need to know their employees and our residents are going to be able to fly come January 2018, gain access to military facilities, federal buildings and power plants," said the chief author of the bill, Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, at a news conference before the vote Thursday.
The House voted 72-58 in favor of the Real ID compliance measure.
The Minnesota Legislature passed a law in 2009 — with near unanimous support — that prevented the state from implementing the federal law. It was a protest of what some state lawmakers said was federal government overreach. But a series of federal warnings in recent years, and the prospect of forcing major headaches on Minnesota travelers, has pushed lawmakers back toward compliance.
Attempts to pass a Real ID bill in 2016 failed over a dispute about driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.
Republicans sought to codify in law that the Department of Public Safety shall not issue driver's licenses for Minnesotans in the country illegally. Some Republicans fear the department could use its rule-making authority to begin issuing licenses to people here illegally. This year's House bill again prohibits the department from doing so without express legislative consent.
The Senate version, still in committee, is silent on the question of driver's licenses for undocumented people, which makes it deficient, House Republicans said.
"Every legislator, all 201 of us, would agree that no government bureaucrat should decide complex immigration policy. That should be done by the Legislature," Smith said.
Senate Republicans — whose narrow one-vote majority makes it difficult to move legislation — say the Department of Public Safety cannot make a major policy shift on its own, obviating the need for language on undocumented people getting licenses.
Bruce Gordon, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, agreed. "Under Minnesota law, the department would need a specific legislative grant of rule-making authority" to issue licenses to people here illegally, he said in an e-mail.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a chief author of the 2009 law that prevented Minnesota from complying, has called Real ID a federal power grab with the potential to degrade privacy rights.
The House version that passed Thursday would allow Minnesotans to choose between the Real ID-compliant license or a standard license at the same price.