Legislators clashed Thursday over the urgency of bringing Minnesota into compliance with the federal Real ID law as the state faces a deadline that could force residents to need more than a driver’s license to board airplanes.
Democratic legislators offered a couple proposals to quickly bring the state into compliance in a special legislative session, but Republicans said they don’t feel the same urgency.
The federal government has given Minnesota 120 days after an as-yet unspecified date to become compliant with the law or receive an extension. Republicans say that leaves the state plenty of time to fix the issue at the beginning of the regular legislative session in March.
Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said that a rush to action was not necessary on a 10-year-old law that authorities are just now threatening to enforce.
“There’s no need for the public to be concerned,” Scott said in a statement. “Real ID is a top priority of the Legislature and something we can address on the first day of the legislative session to ensure Minnesotans’ travel plans are not disrupted and their privacy is protected.”
The issue has been intensifying around Minnesota and in other states not in compliance. While rank-and-file members are considering various proposals, talks will resume Friday between legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton over a possible special session.
The 2005 federal law forced states to adopt more secure ID cards and driver’s licenses to prevent crime and terrorism. The measure was a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, which formed to devise ways to prevent future terrorist attacks.
Politicians in many states, like Minnesota, said the new ID cards amounted to a national identification card, collecting and storing massive amounts of private data. The growing number of data breaches at companies and government institutions only hardened opposition.
By a nearly unanimous vote in 2009, the Legislature prohibited the Department of Public Safety from taking any steps to comply.
Federal authorities cannot force states to adopt these new standards, but they have been pushing for compliance in other ways, like requiring that visitors to federal facilities such as military bases and nuclear plants produce a driver’s license that complies with the law or show a passport.
The new push to prohibit those without proper identification from boarding commercial airplanes has brought the most political pressure.
During a hearing Thursday, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, proposed legislation that would repeal the 2009 state law and give the state’s licensing bureau the authority to move toward compliance.
“Get this done,” said Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul. He proposed making the new, more secure licenses free to compensate Minnesotans for the inconvenience. The money would come from some of the state’s projected $1.2 billion surplus.
The proposal also would allow Minnesotans to opt out if they do not want to use a Real ID card.
Dibble said acting sooner is better, but acknowledged there’s no immediate danger of sanction.
The Real ID issue was one of three — in addition to the struggling Iron Range economy and the stark disparities between racial groups — that Dayton wants lawmakers to take up in a special legislative session, setting a Friday deadline for reaching an agreement. Federal authorities have already denied Minnesota’s request for an extension, which Dayton has said underscores the urgency.
Instead, as became clear Thursday in three separate hearings, there is no agreement on any of the issues. The divide could also serve as a preview of the coming regular legislative session that will arrive just months before each of the 201 legislative districts is up for election.
Iron Range elected officials, union representatives and miners told legislators about the struggles of the beleaguered region, which has seen 2,000 layoffs since last spring, dragging down the local economy.
But Republicans said they wanted long-term solutions on job creation rather than just offering 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, as has been proposed by Iron Range legislators.
At a final hearing late in the day, legislators listened to a state demographer describe how the state’s population has changed, with a rapidly growing black population remaining economically behind other Minnesotans.
The black population has grown by about 135,000 since 2000, or about 82 percent. The poverty rate in Minnesota is 12 percent, while for blacks it is 38 percent.
Dayton and Senate leaders want to pass a menu of initiatives to improve economic conditions and prospects for black Minnesotans.
“I’m hoping we can move forward, and that we keep that level of interest going,” said Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis.
Whatever they do, he wants it to be projects through entities that “have a proven track record and have shown they can do the work;” projects whose results can be measured; and then can be replicated if they are shown to work.