In 2009, the Legislature passed, and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed, legislation prohibiting implementation of the Real ID Act. Five years later, the chickens have come home to roost: The Real ID Act is being enforced, and many of the myths about it have turned out not to be true. With little more than a month left in the current session, the Legislature needs to repeal the 2009 law and prevent Minnesotans from dealing with the consequences of the Legislature’s mistake.
The Real ID Act is a federal 2005 antiterrorism law with the goal of improving the quality and security of driver’s license issuance. The act prohibits federal agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration from accepting driver’s licenses that do not meet standards set by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The law was enacted following a recommendation made by the 9/11 Commission, which rightly recognized that much of our nation’s public safety and homeland security depend on the driver’s license. Driver’s licenses, whether we want to admit it or not, have become the preferred form of identification in the United States.
The Real ID standards were published in January 2008 and, to date, 50 out of 56 jurisdictions (states, territories and the District of Columbia) either meet or plan to meet them. Only five states remain: Minnesota, Louisiana, New York, New Hampshire and Arizona (though Arizona recently passed legislation to allow the residents to obtain a Real ID-compliant driver’s license). Minnesota and the other four states are subject to the enforcement piece of the Real ID Act, which means that driver’s licenses from those states are not currently acceptable as proof of identity for “official purposes,” such as entering a federal building. In 2016, enforcement will expand to airports, and Minnesota driver’s licenses will not be accepted to board an airplane.
Though the DHS has not announced how enforcement at airports will occur, it is likely that there will be a three-month notice period followed by hard enforcement. Travelers confused by the change likely will be turned away. The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport will become an albatross of air travel, an airport to steer clear of for fear of wait times measured in hours and days vs. minutes. Reduced travel to the Land of 10,000 Lakes likely will cost the state millions of dollars in state and local tax revenue, as well as gross sales receipts.
How did Minnesota get here? When the Legislature passed the 2009 law prohibiting the Minnesota Department of Public Safety from implementing the Real ID Act, supporters of that prohibition wrongly argued that the act is tantamount to a national ID card that mandated a federal database of driver’s license data. Additionally, critics argued that there was no money available for Real ID implementation. Five years later, neither is true. Neither the Real ID Act nor the final rule require the establishment of a federal database of drivers’ personal information. The act does not grant the federal government any access to state departments of motor vehicles. Since 2007, Congress has appropriated more than $220 million that has gone directly to the states in the form of grants specifically designated for Real ID implementation. Ironically, the 2009 bill did not prohibit the Minnesota Department of Public Safety from participating in a federal database. If Congress were to pass another law, say, the National Database Uber Collection Identification Act, the Legislature would have to pass another law prohibiting participation.
The Legislature has an opportunity to avoid this crisis. Rather than subject Minnesotans to a de facto tax of obtaining alternative identification and heavy economic losses for the state, it should repeal the 2009 law. Action now avoids further headaches later and a fight with the DHS that the state most certainly would lose.
Andrew Meehan is policy director of the Coalition for a Secure Driver’s License, based in Washington, D.C.