Last fall, local media put us on high alert that the Transportation Security Administration would soon no longer accept Minnesota driver’s licenses as identification to board flights. The ramifications of such a move would be, by all measures, disastrous for Minnesota residents who have come to rely on air travel for both business and pleasure.
We didn’t end up in this predicament by accident, as our Legislature had decided in an almost unanimous vote to block compliance with driver’s licensing standards set out in the federal Real ID Act based on concerns about fully ceding a state power to the federal government. The Department of Homeland Security, the federal agency charged with enforcing Real ID among the states, has identified Minnesota on a shortlist of “insubordinate” states that warrant certain enforcement measures. Though the airline threat has since been delayed until 2018, Minnesotans may no longer use the state license for federal identification purposes to enter military bases or certain federal buildings.
To the surprise of many, complying with the national licensing standards is no easy task, given that it requires the Legislature to repeal the 2009 law prohibiting the state Department of Public Safety (DPS) from planning for and implementing compliance with Real ID. Earlier this session, the Legislature passed a “first-phase” bill to repeal prohibitions on planning in hopes of identifying the cost and impacts of Real ID. Legislators also had hoped to pass a “second-phase” bill that would repeal the prohibition on Real ID implementation this session. As the legislative calendar wanes, however, time is running out on enacting a program.
The truth is, the bills — SF 3589 and HF 3959 — could not be more different. The Senate has proposed a licensing program that allows Minnesotans to choose between a federally compliant license that can be used for federal identification purposes or a “noncompliant” license that can be used for driving purposes only. The noncompliant license appeals to data security advocates who balk at the federal requirement for the DPS to enter personal information into an interstate data-sharing program, as well as others who are concerned about the increased documentation requirements for ID renewal in Minnesota.
In alignment with DPS recommendations made both in a written report and in testimony before various committees, the Senate bill envisions the production of the new licenses by January 2018. The DPS has reported that the Senate proposal would not require the appropriation of additional funds, since required measures for implementation, such as data programming and personnel training, could be spread out over time and rolled into the existing budget. Moreover, the Senate bill follows a national trend toward two-tier licensing programs and has broad bipartisan support in our state, which explains why it has sailed through Senate committees so far.
The House, on the other hand, has proposed a single-tier licensing program with a more immediate October 2016 rollout, at a cost of $4 million to $8 million. The chief author, Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, has been light on justification for his plan, claiming to support a one-tier system for “consumer ease.” Ironically, in committee testimony, Smith struggled to even understand the burden that producing identity documents would have on the elderly. He also has cited “administrative ease of use” as a basis for his bill. In response to a query posed by a Republican colleague (who ultimately voted against the bill), Smith again failed to address the administrative difficulties that would arise from a surge of new document verifications or a timeline that the DPS regards as “impossible to implement.”
In the face of legitimate concerns, Smith’s position seems incomprehensible, perhaps even an example of purposeful obstruction. It is likewise inconceivable that the House Republican majority has rejected several amendments that would greatly improve the bill by bringing it more in line with the companion bill in the Senate, leaving one to wonder whether the legislation is merely being set up to fail.
May the House Republicans hear this call from the sidelines: With such little time to spare, quit playing games and adopt a more reasonable path to Real ID compliance, lest you create massive inconvenience for the rest of us.
Danielle Robinson Briand, of Minneapolis, is an attorney.