House Real ID bill catching familiar flak

Rep. Dennis Smith presents his Real ID bill during a House committee hearing. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Legislation to bring Minnesota into compliance with the federal Real ID law cleared its second House committee, despite lingering concerns about the scope of the bill.

Members of the House Transportation and Regional Governance Policy Committee held a hearing on the bill Wednesday and advanced in on an 8-6 vote. There is not yet a Senate version of a bill.

Supporters want early action this session so the state can begin preparing for implementation of the stricter ID requirements ahead of next year’s scheduled start of enforcement at airports.

“We have a tremendous amount of confusion out there with our passengers today,” said Mitchell Kilian of the Metropolitan Airports Commission during committee testimony. “We would like to see some resolution to this issue.”

But the question of whether unauthorized immigrants can receive drivers’ licenses, which prevented agreement on a final bill last session, remains a major sticking point.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said the immigrant license issue should be debated separately and not be specifically prohibited as part of Real ID.

“It’s currently in rule, so we’re not changing the rule,” Hornstein said. “But by putting it in statute we really do take a giant step backwards in terms of being able to have the discussion and the debate that we need to have here.”

Other lawmakers remain concerned about the collection of personal data under the ID requirements and what they view as federal overreach. Those criticisms fueled 2009 legislation to ban state implementation. Lawmakers reversed the ban last session.

Rep. Abigail Whelan, R-Anoka, said she thinks the state should still hold off on implementing Real ID. She said travelers will still be able to use passports or enhanced drivers’ licenses.

“The concerns regarding the federal government’s encroachment upon state’s rights outweigh the potential risk regarding adding an extra step to our citizens’ travel plans,” Whelan said.

The chief author of the House Real ID bill, Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, said he believes its two-track approach helps to addresses the privacy concerns. He said people can opt for a federally-compliant license or keep their current, noncompliant Minnesota license.

“This is a good bill. This gives Minnesotans a choice,” Smith said.

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