Washington’s basic driver’s license fails federal REAL ID requirements

House, Senate bills could cure the problem

By Tim Gruver
WNPA Olympia News Bureau

Your driver’s license might not fly with airport security in less than a year’s time if the state fails to meet federal identification and travel laws.

Enacted by Congress in 2005, the REAL ID Act established minimum-security standards for Homeland Security to apply when examining state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards to prevent their use by terrorists. The law requires travelers to provide proof of legal residency with documents such as a passport or enhanced driver’s license.

Non-compliant states without deadline extensions have until Jan. 22, 2018, to meet national standards. Washington, which was granted its final extension in 2015, is one of two-dozen states yet to comply with the REAL ID Act.

HB 1041 Sponsored by Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, and SB 5008 sponsored by Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, would satisfy the 41 requirements included in the federal REAL ID Act. The bills are based on a measure developed by the Department of Licensing (DOL) in cooperation with Gov. Jay Inslee.

Conforming to the act will still cost travelers. It costs $54 to renew a basic driver’s license for six years, and $108 for an enhanced driver’s license. SB 5008 would lower the enhanced license cost to $90 for the next four years.

DOL Policy and Legislative Director Tony Sermonti said the department intends to keep enhanced driver’s licenses affordable. “This bill does not remove the ability for people to obtain an enhanced driver’s license. We want to help avoid real disruptions for the traveling public,” he said.

While the state would continue to issue basic driver’s licenses, the federal government no longer would recognize it for federal purposes, such as boarding a plane or entering federal facilities such as military bases.

King believes that the state’s compliance with the act should move forward as soon as possible. “It’s ridiculous that we’re here in 2017, when the REAL ID Act passed in 2005,” King said. “We need to get this done this year.”

A lack of clarity from the federal government on enforcement, deadlines, and cost of implementing the act were among the factors complicating the state’s compliance.

Washington’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation and Camp Murray army base still accept basic driver’s licenses. Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Naval Base Kitsap and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island do not accept basic driver’s licenses for entry.

Immigration advocacy groups are concerned that compliance with the REAL ID Act could draw disproportionate attention to undocumented immigrants, who are more likely to hold basic driver’s licenses and be identified as non-residents.

While the REAL ID Act sets national standards for personal identification, the act does not store driver’s license information in any national database.

Undocumented drivers applying for basic licenses in the near future could be at risk for discrimination should their non-residency status prompt questions by law enforcement. Concerns stem from President Donald J. Trump’s campaign pledges last year to crack down on immigration and his promises to involve local authorities in immigration enforcement.

For One America Advocacy Director Toby Guevin, compliance with the REAL ID Act may not just be a matter of inconvenience, it could undermine Americans’ civil liberties, especially for people of color whom authorities may perceive as foreign.

“A marked driver’s license will expose immigrants, refugees and communities of color to discrimination and racial profiling, while complying with a de facto national identification card could undermine the privacy of all Washington residents,” Guevin said.

Guevin said the state should instead retain its existing licensing system and comply with the REAL ID Act.

While undocumented immigrants could still obtain basic driver’s licenses, they would no longer be able to fly or enter federal facilities, such as military bases.

“The state should continue with its existing system of licensing, which has worked well, and launch a robust public awareness campaign to familiarize all residents with the new federal requirements and encourage eligible residents to obtain a REAL ID-compliant U.S. passport or enhanced driver’s license,” Guevin said.

Public testimony on HB 1041 was heard in the Transportation Committee Jan. 19; it has not advanced further. SB 5008 awaits Senate floor consideration having been placed on second reading by the Rules Committee. It passed the Senate Committee on Transportation Jan. 24 with a 12-2 bi-partisan vote.

In opposing SB 5008, Sen. Rebecca Saldana (D-Seattle), said, “We already have other options for compliance, including enhanced drivers’ licenses. Marking standard licenses so citizenship is unclear leads to a number of issues, including the possibility people will simply drive without licenses or without insurance.”

Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, also opposed the bill.

(This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Contact reporter Tim Gruver at timgruver92@gmail.com.)

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