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MN Senate hearing highlights Real ID divide

Real ID critic Jim Harper, right, testifies during a state Senate hearing as the bill's sponsor, Sen. Eric Pratt, looks on. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Legislation to move the state toward compliance with the federal Real ID law is facing extended scrutiny from a Minnesota Senate panel.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from supporters and opponents of the bill Tuesday. It was the first of two scheduled hearings on the bill that would authorize the distribution of the more secure drivers’ licenses that travelers will need to show at airports beginning next January.

“Many Minnesotans expect us to pass a Real ID bill so they can use their state-issued ID for federal purposes,” said Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, the bill’s chief sponsor. “Our business community and their employees want to be able to travel without carrying additional credentials.”

Pratt said his bill is a good compromise, because it allows people with data privacy concerns the option of sticking with a noncompliant driver’s license.

Opponents questioned whether the state should comply.

Jim Harper, vice president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said the personal privacy cost of the requirements is too high. Harper warned lawmakers not to let the federal government take away their authority over drivers’ licenses.

“It’s taking power from you that you won’t get back if you cede it to the federal government,” Harper said.

Harper also predicted that the federal government will again push back its compliance deadline, as it already has multiple times.

Supporters of the bill don’t want to risk potential problems when Real ID enforcement begins.

Jeff Davidmann, vice president of state and local government affairs for Delta Airlines, said confused customers are already asking airline representatives a lot of questions about what might happen.

“Quite frankly, they don’t have the answers. They’re not sure what to tell customers because Minnesota hasn’t found a solution to this yet,” Davidmann said.

Committee members will meet again Wednesday to discuss the legislation among themselves and take a vote.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, is the committee chairman and a longtime critic of the federal law.

Limmer criticized the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for demanding Real ID compliance while consistently refusing to send any representatives to the Minnesota Capitol to discuss the law.

“I’m hoping that the taxpayers of this state as well as the federal taxpayers that are in this room are understanding that this is the type of partner that we are going to be coming into agreement with very soon if this bill passes,” Limmer said.