HELENA — Homeland security officials have warned Montana Gov. Steve Bullock that the state may not get any more time to comply with federal driver’s license rules, meaning residents may eventually need a different form of identification to board commercial aircraft.
In response, Bullock wrote Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson a letter Tuesday urging him to suspend implementation of the Real ID Act and accept Montana licenses as secure forms of identification.
“The Obama administration continues to push what I think is a real misguided effort, this Real ID Act,” Bullock said in an interview. “I’ve written Secretary Johnson to say it’s time to suspend your efforts and go back to the Congress and get this fixed because Montana is not going to be in compliance.”
Montana and several other states oppose requirements in the federal law that include storing images of documents that driver’s license applicants present as proof of their identity, such as birth certificates. The state already has been granted two one-year extensions to get in compliance. But a letter sent Sept. 15 by Homeland Security Deputy Assistant Secretary Ted Sobel said states that can’t commit to fully complying with the law may not receive any more extensions.
Montana’s latest extension expired Monday, and the state has no plans to align its driver’s licenses with the federal law.
The state Legislature in 2007 voted unanimously not to comply with Real ID. Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox have both insisted Montana’s licenses are secure without meeting all of the requirements of the federal law.
States that don’t get new extensions will have a temporary grace period before their driver’s licenses aren’t accepted for admission to federal facilities and nuclear power plants. By January 2018, domestic air travelers with licenses from those states will have to show an alternative form of identification to board planes.
Bullock said that leaves more than a year for Congress to change the law, “and I expect Congress to fix it.”
The Real ID Act was passed in 2005 to prevent terrorism and identity theft by improving the reliability and accuracy of state-issued identification documents, according to federal officials. State officials say the information that is stored could be breached and could be used to track ordinary U.S. citizens.
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