Legislators open to compromise in Real ID
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota lawmakers are still not wild about the idea of adopting federal Real ID standards, but during a meeting with federal officials, they said they are open to compromise.
ST. PAUL - Minnesota lawmakers are still not wild about the idea of adopting federal Real ID standards, but during a meeting with federal officials, they said they are open to compromise.
Like just three other states, Minnesota has blocked adoption of the federal standards for state identification. That means Minnesota driver’s licenses cannot be used to enter some federal facilities and nuclear plants. And it could mean, sometime next year, that Minnesotans will need more than just a license to board airplanes.
Several key lawmakers who have opposed Real ID said they’d be open to relaxing at least that law.
“I am convinced that the responsible thing for us to do as legislators is to create a formal space by which our commissioner can have a conversation with the federal government,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, a longtime Real ID opponent who co-sponsored the 2010 ban. “Her hands really are pretty tightly tied. You never know what the creative response could be unless you have that formal conversations.”
Governor Mark Dayton has called for lawmakers to rescind the ban so Minnesota can be compliant with Real ID.
But it is unclear whether lawmakers will be willing to go that far.
“In addition to boarding a plane, it’s also an issue of our civil liberties,” said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who worried that Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses could be “expanded to a whole host of other purposes.”
Lawmakers have one face-saving option: Minnesota currently does offer a Real ID-compliant license in the form of its enhanced driver’s licenses. Instead of upgrading all licenses to meet Real ID requirements, Minnesota could promote the enhanced licenses for Minnesotans who want to use their licenses to pass airport security and enter federal buildings while making the basic license available for people who don’t want or need such an ID.
That two-tier system is used by several states, including Wisconsin. The Department of Homeland Security allows such an approach as long as the non-compliant licenses are marked “not for federal purposes.”
“That matches how Minnesotans live,” Mariani said. “Some folks are going to be traveling, some folks want to enter nuclear reactors, and some don’t.”
Timing could be an issue even if Minnesota decides to move forward with Real ID-compliant licenses. Minnesota’s current licenses will become invalid for airport security sometime next year - but Homeland Security officials on Tuesday wouldn’t say exactly when. They’ll announce a specific time before the end of the year. The only assurance they gave Minnesota lawmakers was that it wouldn’t be in early January.
“We will ensure that the traveling public has ample notice before any changes are made that could possibly affect their travel planning,” said Philip McNamara, the Department of Homeland Security’s assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs.
But Minnesota’s Legislature isn’t scheduled to return to session until March. Unless they meet for a special session before then, that’s the soonest lawmakers could enact Real ID-compliant licenses or even relax the restriction on officials planning those licenses.
McNamara said he’s aware of that deadline but wouldn’t give lawmakers any firmer date about when Homeland Security would require the stricter licenses.
Lawmakers’ comments came Tuesday afternoon following a meeting with senior Homeland Security officials. McNamara and Real ID program director Ted Sobel met with lawmakers, lobbyists, staff and administration officials for two hours as they tried to allay concerns about Real ID.
Afterwards, many lawmakers who were opposed to Real ID before the meeting said they still had doubts.
The meeting in the state Veterans Service Building was originally closed to the public, though the Homeland Security presentation could be clearly heard from the room’s antechamber. After about 20 minutes, meeting organizers changed their mind and allowed reporters and cameras into the room.