Republicans leading Minnesota’s Legislature hope for a quick push early this year to bring Minnesota into long-awaited compliance with the federal Real ID law, but opposition from DFLers and even some Republicans leaves that far from certain.
If Minnesota misses a January 2018 deadline, Minnesotans will need a passport or other approved ID — rather than a regular Minnesota driver’s license — to board commercial aircraft or enter military bases and some federal facilities.
“The time is now to act,” said Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, the bill’s chief author. “We clearly are out of time,” he said.
Born out of recommendations by the 9/11 Commission, a 2005 federal law sought to force states to upgrade their licenses to prevent criminals and terrorists from obtaining fakes or stolen identities.
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.
Still, passage of the law is far from certain given a galvanized opposition comprising libertarian-leaning Republicans and DFLers concerned about an immigration measure in the bill.
“I have serious concerns regarding Real ID, and I’m opposed to implementation,” said Rep. Abigail Whelan, R-Ramsey, during a Wednesday committee hearing. She said she is concerned with the power it would cede to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
In their opposition, DFL lawmakers are pointing to a provision that would codify in law that the Department of Public Safety, which issues licenses, would be restricted from granting IDs to immigrants in the country illegally. The department is prevented from doing so now, but only by administrative rule, not by law.
Many DFLers and some Republicans, including Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, want Minnesota to issue driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status, and a prohibition in law would be more difficult to overcome than the current administrative rule, said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis.
“What we want to do is enhance the quality of life for everyone by keeping our streets safer by making sure everyone driving has a driver’s license and insurance,” Hornstein said.
He said 14 other states have passed laws making it possible for such immigrants to obtain a driver’s license.
Smith said the immigration provision will assist the Department of Public Safety with implementation, although cracking down on illegal immigration has also been a long-standing goal of Republicans.
The administration of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton released a statement saying codifying legal immigration status is unnecessary.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, was instrumental in the 2009 law prohibiting Minnesota from complying with the federal law. He now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he said he would give the House bill a hearing, even though he remains staunchly opposed.
“It’s sad the federal government is using a club to force states into submission,” Limmer said.
He ran down a litany of objections: vesting too much power in the hands of the Department of Homeland Security, which he said could stiffen the law still more in the future without congressional approval; the potential misuse of data such as gun purchase history; and the potential for snooping by government workers in other states, in violation of Minnesota’s current privacy laws.
Asked when he would give the bill a hearing in the committee he chairs, Limmer said he was in no rush and joked about his House colleagues: “Young men in a hurry.”