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Minnesota Senate approves Real ID changes

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Senate on Thursday approved major changes to the state's driver's licenses and identification cards to comply with federal law.


ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Senate on Thursday approved major changes to the state’s driver’s licenses and identification cards to comply with federal law.

Minnesota had long resisted the changes, required by the federal Real ID Act, but Washington has said it would require federally approved driver’s license and identification by 2020 in order to get through airport security and for other purposes. That got state leaders moving to adopt the changes.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 48-16 to give Minnesotans a choice between Real ID-compliant licenses and standard licenses starting in 2018. The standard licenses could not be used for federal purposes. The House is expected to follow with its own version of the bill early next week.

“It’s kind of the expectation of Minnesotans that they just be able to use their regular license as they do today,”  said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis and the sponsor of the Real ID move.

But the Republican-controlled House and the DFL-controlled Senate still have differences that could slow lawmakers’ moves toward bringing the federal standards to the state.


Among key differences:

l The Senate would have the state begin issuing the new licenses in 2018, which would require some Minnesotans to get a two-year driver’s license in the interim. The House, at some additional expense, would have the state begin producing the identification later this year.

l The House would specifically restrict Minnesota from issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants. The Senate measure is silent on that subject, and Dibble said the Senate would not accept that language.

Although the House initially moved to require Minnesota to issue only Real ID-compliant licenses and identification after this year, it moved this week to offer residents a choice between Real ID cards and standard cards. The Senate has long supported offering that choice.

A joint House-Senate committee will have to work out those differences - and quickly - if the Legislature is to pass a Real ID license bill this year. Lawmakers have only until May 22 to approve legislation this year.

Some lawmakers pleaded for more time to settle the issues.

“Certainly, we don’t need to do it this year,” said Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake.

Sen. Warren Limmer, who opposed the final measure, said he has long been concerned that Real ID will become a de facto national identification, which could also allow the federal government, other states or others to track states’ residents.


“If it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck, let’s call it for what it is,” said Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

Minnesota lawmakers had long bucked the federal rules on driver’s licenses - which include new security checks and requirements on photos and expiration dates - because they believe states, and states alone, should decide how to design their state identification.

But earlier this year, the federal department of Homeland Security, which had long worked to cajole states to comply with their federal rules, added threats to their arsenal. The federal government, the agency said, would refuse to accept non-Real ID-compliant identification for federal purposes starting in 2018.

States with an extension to comply would have until 2020. Minnesota has already applied for an extension. That means that starting in four years, most Minnesota driver’s licenses would not be considered acceptable identification at airports or to enter military bases.

Last year and early this year, Minnesotans became anxious about the state’s lack of Real ID issuance as state and federal officials warned about the pending deadline.

They called their lawmakers and other representatives to press the issue and many - nearly 5,000 in both December and January - applied for Enhanced Driver’s Licenses. These are Minnesota identification cards that cost an extra $15 and require applicants to provide extra information. But unlike a standard licenses, which do not meet federal requirements, enhanced licenses are considered federally acceptable.

Dibble said Minnesotans should expect their state to issue regular driver’s licenses and identification cards that can be used in federal and state circumstances.

“It’s a choice that we make on behalf of our constituents,” he said.


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