Real ID deadline is months away, but now may be the time to get ready

Minnesotans may soon need new drivers licenses. Six months from today, the federal government is scheduled to start enforcing the requirement for an enhanced identification card for Minnesota drivers.

Real ID has been the subject of longstanding political disputes in Minnesota. The state has won exemptions from the requirement in the past, but that is coming to an end.

What is Real ID?

It's a law passed in 2005 that sets a new standard for state issued identification cards. It was in response to the 9/11 Commission recommendation that the U.S. crackdown on false IDs. The law requires specific documentation, like proof of date of birth, proof of a Social Security number, proof of U.S. citizenship and documentation proving your address. It's more rigorous than Minnesota's existing two-part ID requirement.

Why has it taken 13 years to get to this point?

The law has been controversial. Critics have suggested it amounts to a national ID, and that it costs too much. Minnesota actually passed a law banning Real ID in 2009. The federal government has offered many extensions as a result, but finally set a deadline of January 22, 2018. That deadline has now been extended for Minnesotans and residents of some other states through October 10.

So, are people going to get turned away from the security gates in six months?

Gov. Mark Dayton told federal officials in January that Minnesota was making serious strides toward complying with Real ID and asked them for another extension. The federal government could grant that extension.

"The message was: 'We're not ready to accept the applications for an extension but extensions would be granted to states that are making progress towards complying with the act,'" said Department of Public Safety spokesperson Bruce Gordon. "And until that happens you really don't know exactly what and how the federal government will act."

For now, regular Minnesota drivers licenses still work at the airport, and it's possible that still will be the case six months from now. TSA agents continue to accept passports and federal IDs.

What is Minnesota doing to prepare for Real ID?

The state is implementing a new computer system to make driver's licenses comply with the Real ID law. State officials signed a $26 million contract with a company called FAST Enterprises in November to overhaul just this system.

Minnesota has struggled with rolling out big information technology projects, like the health insurance exchange MnSURE and MNLARS. The latter is the vehicle licensing computer system that has been plagued with problems and huge cost overruns. This new drivers license system is separate from MNLARS. The Department of Public Safety says the project is hitting interim goals and that FAST has done this very successfully elsewhere. They expect to be ready by October 1.

In the meantime, Minnesotans can get a so-called enhanced drivers license that meets federal standards. Applicants need to have birth certificates and Social Security cards.

What should I do now?

State officials recommend renewing your license as before, if it expires before October. You can get an enhanced driver's license or a U.S. passport now. And if you're worried about getting a Real ID when you need one, now would be a good time to get a sneak peek at the kind of paperwork you're going to need from the state and start getting ready to apply.

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