Real ID bill hung up again over immigrant drivers' licenses

The Minnesota Senate Chamber.
The Republican Senate majority leader, Paul Gazelka, says the governor is working behind the scenes with Democrats to prevent passage of a Real IDbill unless it includes an opening for unauthorized immigrant to obtain drivers' licenses.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Overdue efforts to bring Minnesota into compliance with the federal Real ID law have hit another snag at the state Capitol.

The issue this time: Senate Republicans say Gov. Mark Dayton is trying to derail the legislation because it doesn't allow unauthorized immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses.

Minnesota is one of the few remaining states that has not upgraded its drivers' licenses to conform to stricter federal standards. People could have trouble boarding flights at airports and getting into federal buildings as of next January.

"I think most Minnesotans are going to be outraged that we couldn't work together and get this done," Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said of the legislation he is sponsoring.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Dayton is working behind the scenes with Senate Democrats to prevent passage of the bill unless it includes an opening for unauthorized immigrant to obtain drivers' licenses.

"That should be worked on separately, Gazelka said. "If people want to pass that, they should work on separate language. But to include it with Real ID jeopardizes Real ID."

Mark Dayton signs a bill allowing the construction of a new power plant.
Gov. Mark Dayton, seen Tuesday signing a bill for a new power plant.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Republicans hold a slim 34-33 majority in the Senate. Gazelka acknowledged that DFL help is needed to pass the bill because a few GOP Senators strongly oppose Real ID.

"It's either going to pass because we have a team effort, or it's not," he said. "So, when the governor meets with them and says, 'I want you to defeat it,' that's a problem."

Dayton insists he's been up front with Republicans about the immigrant license issue all along. The same disagreement prevented a final resolution on Real ID last session.

Allowing licenses for unauthorized immigrants would improve public safety, Dayton said. But it would need explicit legislative approval, which he wants in the bill.

"It's very distressing that they would try to make a political case out of this," Dayton said. "If they'd acted last year as I suggested in the legislative session this would all be resolved and we'd be underway. So, this is entirely their creation and any delays that are occurring now are entirely their responsibility."

Dayton did not say whether he would sign a Real ID bill without the immigrant language he seeks. But he confirmed that he talked to Democrats Tuesday night about how to pass the provision with the Real ID bill.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he plans to meet next week with Gazelka to discuss the Real ID bill. Bakk said his caucus has supported licenses for unauthorized immigrants in the past, and he's not aware of any desire to change.

"The dirty little secret is they're driving now. They don't have car insurance, because how are you going to get car insurance without a driver's license?" Bakk said. "So, they're at some extent putting the public safety at risk. So, I think there's a conversation we've got to have about that."

Last week, the House passed a Real ID bill that would also prevent unauthorized immigrants from getting drivers' license. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said the governor knows that a separate immigrant bill wouldn't have the votes.

"What he is trying to do is attach it to something he knows has already passed this chamber as a vehicle to get it passed into law," Daudt said, "rather than actually introduce a bill to deal with the issue that he wants to pass and then advocate for its passage."

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