Washington lags on security-enhancements to driver’s licenses required by a 2005 federal law, and now the state faces consequences if the Legislature doesn’t act.
OLYMPIA — More than two dozen states and territories aren’t in compliance with a 2005 federal law that requires state driver’s licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they’re legally in the United States.
But Washington is one of just four states and one territory that haven’t received a compliance extension from the federal government, meaning millions of residents who have standard Washington driver’s licenses now need additional ID for access to some military bases, and will eventually be required to show more documentation for air travel unless the Legislature acts.
State lawmakers have put off dealing with legislation to address the issue until next year, a year before residents may be required to show additional identification if they want to board a commercial aircraft.
Here’s a look at the federal law, what Washington has and hasn’t done, and the potential impacts:
Real ID Act
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The law was passed by Congress after the 2001 terrorist attacks to strengthen rules for government-sanctioned identification. The 2005 law sets minimum standards for government-issued identification such as driver’s licenses that are required to enter certain areas in federal buildings or to board commercial airplanes. Those standards include requiring applicants to provide proof of identity and legal U.S. residency and requiring states to use counterfeit-resistant security features in the IDs.
Status of states’ compliance
More than 20 states and the District of Columbia have met the federal standards, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s website (http://1.usa.gov/239cQiA). Nearly 30 states and U.S. territories are not in compliance, but federal agencies can continue accepting licenses from those states because they have been granted extensions b that will expire later this year, unless they are renewed.
Washington, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and American Samoa are out of compliance and do not have extensions.
Why Washington isn’t in compliance
Washington is the only state in the country that does not require proof of legal presence in the U.S. to get a standard driver’s license or ID. However, the state does offer, voluntarily and at an extra cost, enhanced driver’s licenses and IDs that require proof of U.S. citizenship and are valid under the federal law.
As of this month, more than 530,000 Washington residents have gotten an enhanced driver’s license or enhanced ID card, with the vast majority of those being licenses. There are about 5 million people in the state with standard licenses, and about 600,000 with regular ID cards.
New Mexico previously had also not required proof of legal presence for its licenses, but this year it revised its law to be in compliance with the federal law. Under the new law in New Mexico, the state joins other states that give restricted licenses to people who can’t prove they are in the U.S. legally.
What that means for state
Eventually, Washington residents who only have standard licenses will need additional ID in order to board commercial aircraft. Already, they are no longer able to use their standard state driver’s licenses as identification to get a visitor’s pass onto Joint Base Lewis-McChord or the Yakima Training Center. As of April 1, people who don’t have an enhanced driver’s license have had to show additional forms of ID, like a passport or permanent resident card to gain access to those locations.
The restriction applies to companies with employees who need unescorted access, as well as those seeking access to visit friends, family, the museums or other locations at the sites.
Under an updated schedule released by the federal government late last year, Washington residents will need additional identification to board commercial flights starting Jan. 22, 2018. Residents of other states that currently have extensions will have until Oct. 21, 2020 (http://1.usa.gov/1mJIGPf).
What the state is doing
Lawmakers have struggled over the past few years to even introduce a bill. Last year, the federal government granted the state an extension through October 2015 after state officials proposed a plan to the Legislature that would create a two-tiered licensing system — one that would keep the current enhanced license but also create a standard state license that would indicate it is not valid for federal purposes.
But that measure never gained traction, and the Legislature adjourned in July. The federal government last October then denied the state’s request for another extension. No legislative action was taken during the most recent legislative session, but Republican Sen. Curtis King, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, has promised lawmakers will address the issue next year.
King has already introduced Senate Bill 6678 (http://1.usa.gov/1S9eTYx) and said he plans to hold work sessions on the measure this summer. Last month, King also wrote to the Department of Homeland Security to request a compliance extension for the state, based on the newly introduced legislation that creates the two-tier system.
“I recognize we can no longer wait on this matter,” King wrote, asking that the extension be granted “in order to minimize impacts to Washington residents as we engage in legislative deliberations to move our state into federal compliance.”
A Department of Homeland Security spokesman said the letter has been received and that the state’s compliance status is under review.