An official from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is scheduled to meet privately with members of the Minnesota Legislature Tuesday to urge them to pass a law that updates driver’s licenses to meet federal ID standards.
If the state doesn’t do that, people may not be able to use a driver’s license for domestic air travel as early as 2016.
State lawmakers rejected what's called the REAL ID proposal in 2009 because they said it was federal overreach on an issue that has historically been left to the states. They also complained that the enhanced security standards are an encroachment of civil liberties, and that the mandate to upgrade the state IDs doesn't come with federal funding.
Those same concerns are being raised now, but no lawmaker wants to face an unhappy Minnesotan blaming the Legislature because he or she can't get on an airplane.
“We lost the fight,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. “We couldn’t exactly stand in the way of people’s ability to travel around the country. That wouldn’t be prudent.”
Dibble, who chairs the Senate Transportation Finance Committee, says he’s still concerned about portions of the REAL ID law including the federal government’s failure to protect sensitive data. He said the most recent example is a data breach in the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. That agency confirmed last week that a database of 5.6 million fingerprints has been compromised by hackers.
But while Dibble is offering pragmatism, others aren’t so willing to back down.
Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said the same concerns that led the Legislature to reject REAL ID in 2009 are valid today.
Scott said she’s willing to listen to Homeland Security officials, but she is still skeptical of the plan.
“People need to ask what are you willing to give up for this to be implemented as far as your civil liberties and your data privacy concerns?,” She said.
Scott said people who want to use air travel have several alternatives including a U.S. passport or an enhanced driver’s license. Minnesota offers the enhanced driver’s licenses at a cost of $15.
Minnesota is one of four states that have not implemented the new federal requirements. The other states are New York, Louisiana and New Hampshire. New York’s reluctance to embrace the federal standards has some suggesting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will delay the enforcement of REAL ID.
“While this may sound frightening, there’s no reason for Minnesotans to panic,” Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, wrote in an email to constituents. “Three other states, including New York, have yet to switch to REAL ID. I doubt the federal government would stop New York’s 20 million residents from flying in January because their state hasn’t complied.
Gov. Mark Dayton suggested last week that the issue was serious enough that it could require a special legislative session. But on Monday, he said he didn’t see the need for a special session because the new IDs won’t be required until January at the earliest.
But Dayton said it’s an imperative that the state pass the law.
“There’s no alternative to this if you want to get people on airplanes in Minnesota,” Dayton said. “We just don’t’ have any choice.”