Feds Say “No” to Minnesota’s Plea for Real ID Extension

By: Bridget Clerkin December 28, 2015
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The REAL ID Act may soon be causing real problems for nearly 4 million Minnesotans.

The North Star State’s plea for more time to implement the regulation, which requires states to bolster their processes for issuing driver’s licenses, was recently shot down by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Without the blessing of the national agency, Minnesota will now have to scramble to meet the quickly approaching compliance deadline or resolve not to follow the act—which would make all licenses issued in the state viewed as unacceptable forms of federal ID for several situations overseen by the federal government.

Specifically, failure to adhere to the law could leave residents unable to visit military bases and other federal facilities, or, most problematic, board domestic flights.

Still, Minnesotans have some time before the legislation takes effect. The DHS has said it would give at least 120 days’ notice before requiring REAL ID-based licenses to board flights.

Once the law is enacted, however—if Minnesota has not yet complied—residents of the state will need higher-level forms of identification to fly domestically, such as a passport, a passport card, or a DHS trusted traveler card.

Originally passed in 2005, the federal law gave states about 10 years—until January 1, 2016—to implement the new rules. But Minnesota’s state legislature resoundingly voted against adopting the measure in 2009, leaving the state in a legislative limbo for the past 6 years.

As the deadline has quietly crept up, some state lawmakers have changed their minds on the matter, with several, including Governor Mark Dayton, asking the DHS for more time to comply. It’s unclear why the request for an extended deadline was rejected, although the New York Times reported that DHS officials have stated there would be “no more delays” in implementing the REAL ID plan.

The law calls for state Department of Motor Vehicles offices to ask for more information before issuing driver’s licenses, including a birth certificate or verification of birth, Social Security number, proof of residence, and evidence of lawful status in the country. The new licenses will also be equipped with technology that stores the individual’s personal information and makes it electronically available to all other states and, possibly, federal authorities.

Since a license is all that’s currently needed to board a domestic flight, the idea behind the legislation, according to the DHS, is to make that form of identification more secure.

Based on recommendations given by the 9/11 Commission, the Real ID Act has been touted by federal officials as a weapon against identity theft and fraud and a path toward greater national security. Still, some, including many members of Minnesota’s state legislature in 2009, have worried that the law infringes too much upon the privacy of citizens. Others have expressed concern that linking all driving records together electronically would make the information more vulnerable.

Aside from the privacy issues, some state officials have objected the idea due to the high cost of the program, which would become the states’ responsibility. While the federal government has estimated that implementing the law would cost $3.9 billion nationally, some state lawmakers cite a 2006 study that puts that number closer to $11 billion nationwide, over a 5-year period.

While the federal government can not force the states to enact the policy, many have adopted the protocol due to the issues surrounding domestic flights. But Minnesota is not the lone holdout. New Mexico and Washington have also opted out of the program—at least, for now.

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