Minnesota is currently facing a federal deadline. On Jan. 22, 2018, Minnesota is required by the Department of Homeland Security to meet more stringent driver’s license security measures. If no action is taken by that date, Minnesotans will no longer be able to use their driver’s licenses to fly even domestic flights and will instead need a passport or other Transportation Security Administration-accepted ID. So how have we gotten to this point, and what are the prospects for the last few months of the deadline? It all has to do with a federal law called the “real” ID Act.
The law was passed in 2005 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks to require the federal government accept state driver’s licenses and ID cards as valid identification for activities such as flying and entering federal buildings. With that, however, came additional requirements of the states. The new standards require specific information to be given by a person in order to receive a driver’s license, similar to what you need to get a passport. States would also be required to share their information with other states in a national database.
These requirements have sparked concern from immigration and privacy groups alike. The new information needed to get a driver’s license or state ID includes proof of legal immigration status, which some states do not currently require. The national database requirement also would have information about Minnesota citizens shared with the federal government and with other state governments.
So what is the situation with Minnesota? Our state is one of the last places to be non-compliant with the legislation in part due to the above concerns. Part of that was a bipartisan law passed by the legislature in 2009 banning the Minnesota Department of Public Safety from doing anything on the subject of “real” ID compliance. More recently, this ban was lifted in 2016. However, now that the issue is up for debate, the Democrats and Republicans have different ideas about how to proceed.
The Republican-controlled Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016 proposed a bill to make Minnesota “real” ID compliant and also included language that banned people living in the state illegally from obtaining a Minnesota driver’s license. The then DFL-controlled State Senate didn’t make mention of immigration status in its proposal, and neither version passed the opposing house of the legislature.
After the Republicans gained control of the Minnesota Senate in the recent 2016 elections, they now had an easier time moving their proposal. After again passing a “real” ID compliance bill with immigration language in it, Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL came out against the requirements mandating legal residency. After even a version not including legal-residency language failed in the Senate due to privacy concerns, matters again came to a halt.
Both sides can see the deadline coming, though, as the legislature must adjourn by May 22 until next year unless a special session is called so Dayton has now taken the position he will sign whatever proposal the legislature sends to him, even if it includes language on immigration status.
So what can you do if the legislature doesn’t get anything passed by Jan. 22? Well, there is something you can do to protect yourself from inconvenience. You may have noticed at your last driver’s license renewal that our state now offers what are called enhanced driver’s licenses and enhanced identification cards. These are “real” ID-compliant and can also be used to re-enter the United States from travel in Canada, Mexico and some areas in the Caribbean. They come at the additional cost of $15 more than your regular driver’s license.
I would urge our state legislators to make an effort at consensus soon. It would be an unnecessary burden on the people of this state if our driver’s licenses are no longer valid as travel documents. We have had a long time to figure this issue out, and I hope we can have it done now rather than at the brink of the deadline.
Connor Kockler is a Sauk Rapids-Rice High School student. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.