Real ID deadline looms again for lawmakers

Sen. Warren Limmer
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, had a big hand in Minnesota's tardiness on Real ID.
Jennifer Simonson| MPR News 2015 file

Minnesota still hasn't conformed with the federal Real ID security standard for drivers' licenses.

Enforcement at airports is supposed to begin in about a year. But the Legislature has not yet agreed on how to do it. Lawmakers will try again during the 2017 session, and now a leading Real ID critic heads a key legislative committee.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, had a big hand in Minnesota's tardiness on Real ID. He pushed legislation in 2009 to ban state agencies from complying with the federal law or even talking about it. Lawmakers lifted the ban last year but could not reach final agreement on the next steps toward implementation.

Limmer remains concerned that Real ID allows the government to collect too much information and is a threat to privacy. He's also in no rush to take action in 2017, given the federal government's previous extension of deadlines.

"I personally am waiting to see if the federal government will extend that deadline one more time under the Trump administration," he said. "So, I'm not quite sure how excited I'm going to get about Real ID right now."

Republicans will now control the state Senate, and Limmer is the new chair of the Senate judiciary committee. He said a Real ID bill will have to come through his committee to address the data collection and privacy implications.

"Whether I can tap the brakes on it or not, I do not know at this time," he said.

Under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Real ID timetable, people who want to get on an airplane from states that don't comply with Real ID and don't have an extension will need a passport or another approved alternative identification by Jan. 22, 2018.

Minnesota's enhanced driver's licenses meet the federal standard, and they're available now if you pay a fee and fill out a detailed application.

Every air traveler will need an acceptable ID by October of 2020.

Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, said he respectfully disagrees with Limmer's wait and see approach on Real ID. Smith was chief author of a House bill last session that would've brought Minnesota in line with Real ID standards, and he's ready to try again in 2017.

"We are really out of time right now. This issue needs to be resolved in 2017, because come January of 2018, if we do not pass an implementation bill, there won't be any commerce," Smith said. "It will be restricted, flying, unless you have a passport or an enhanced ID."

Minnesota Department of Public Safety officials told lawmakers last session that the state could save millions on Real ID implementation if it holds off until January 2018. That's when a new computerized licensing and registration system is expected to be up and running.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said he was disappointed the matter wasn't resolved last session. The hang up, he said, was House language to prevent unauthorized immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses. Dibble, who was chief author of last session's Senate Real ID bill, said he doesn't want the immigrant issue to get in the way again.

"It really shouldn't be the subject of a Real ID law at all," Dibble said. "It really doesn't involve anything that pertains to whether or not people with or without legal status can have a Minnesota license. It just interjects a controversial issue into what is already a somewhat contentious subject."

Dibble also stressed the importance of offering a dual-track system that would let people concerned about future travel complications to get a federally approved license, while allowing those with concerns about privacy to keep the same type of license they have today.

"Other states have done that and it seems to be a perfectly satisfactory resolution," he said.

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