Minnesotans' air travel and access to federal buildings are at risk due to gridlock at the State Capitol, again over the issue of whether the state should issue driver's licenses to immigrants living in the state illegally.

The state's deadline for coming into compliance with the federal law intended to tighten security of driver's licenses and other forms of identification — known as Real ID — is in January 2018. If Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators don't resolve their disputes by then, a regular Minnesota driver's license would not be sufficient to board a commercial aircraft or enter federal facilities or military bases. Minnesotans could either obtain an enhanced ID from the state Department of Public Safety or use a passport or some other acceptable federal ID.

DFLer Dayton wants any Real ID law taken up by the Legislature this year to include a measure that would allow the Department of Public Safety to issue driver's licenses to people who are in the country illegally. He urged the Senate DFL caucus — whose votes will likely be needed for passage — to push the driver's license issue in exchange for their votes.

"I met with DFL Senate caucus and said, 'If you want to give us this opportunity to proceed, then you need to hold together,' " he said Wednesday.

Senate Republicans swiftly denounced Dayton's gambit: "If the DFL does not stop these games, it's going to be extremely disruptive for our businesses and families to travel next year," said Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake.

Dayton said GOP comments were "beyond the pale" and "dirty politics."

"This is entirely their creation, and any delays are entirely their responsibility," Dayton said, referring to the Legislature.

Minnesota is now one of five states not in compliance with the 2005 federal law, which was enacted in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The Legislature passed a law in 2009 — with near unanimous support — that prevented the state from implementing the federal law to protest what some state lawmakers said was federal government overreach.

DFL and a handful of GOP lawmakers, as well as some in law enforcement, say licensing undocumented immigrants would improve road safety by ensuring all drivers are properly road tested and can obtain insurance.

The dispute over driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants was the major barrier to passage of a Real ID compliance law in 2016, as well.

J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042