OLYMPIA, Wash. — People in Washington state likely won’t have to worry next year about the identification they take to the airport after Gov. Jay Inslee signed a measure Tuesday seeking to make the state one of more than two dozen in compliance with federal identification requirements.
Washington and several other states have struggled for years to comply with the REAL ID Act, a 2005 federal law that requires state driver’s licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and to be issued to people who can prove they are legally in the United States.
The law was passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to strengthen rules for identification needed at airports and federal facilities.
Some liberal and conservative states have objected to the new rules, with concerns ranging from discrimination to worries that law-abiding U.S. citizens could be tracked using the new system.
Others have opposed the U.S. government unilaterally setting standards in an area traditionally handled by states.
With a January deadline looming, lawmakers across the country have been scrambling for legislative fixes so residents can board flights and travel without confusion.
“This will help to ease problems at border crossings, airports, federal courthouses, and military bases where REAL ID compliant documents are required,” Inslee said before he signed the bill, adding that the measure ensures the “convenience and security of our citizens.”
Just 25 states and the District of Columbia are currently in compliance with the federal law, though most of the remaining states and territories have been granted various extensions.
Residents of states that are in compliance have until Oct. 21, 2020, before being required to show the REAL ID compliant identification.
Residents of states that are not in compliance with REAL ID and do not have an extension need additional identification for access to some military bases and federal facilities and, starting next Jan. 22, to board commercial flights.
Washington state already offers, but does not mandate, enhanced driver’s licenses and IDs that require proof of U.S. citizenship and are valid under the federal law. The state also issues standard licenses that don’t comply with the federal rule.
Starting in July 2018, those standard licenses will be marked to indicate they are not REAL ID compliant and thus not acceptable for certain purposes by federal authorities.
Residents will have a choice of which license they want. Those with the non-compliant licenses will need additional documentation — such as a passport, permanent resident card or military ID — to board domestic commercial flights and for other federal purposes, most likely starting in October 2020.
Maine, Minnesota, Missouri and Montana are the only states currently listed as not compliant with the law and without an extension from the federal government. However, Maine’s governor last month signed a REAL ID compliance bill passed by the Legislature, and Montana and Missouri this year have both passed bills awaiting their governors’ signatures.
Several other states are considering bills related to REAL ID compliance, including Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon and Pennsylvania. Governors in Kentucky, Oklahoma and South Carolina also have signed REAL ID compliance bills this year.
As Washington’s proposal worked its way through the Legislature, some opponents said it didn’t go far enough in requiring proof of legal presence for those receiving licenses or IDs. Others argued that the marked licenses could lead to discrimination.
Language added to the bill by the state House sought to prohibit the marked licenses from being used to determine or infer citizenship or immigration status or to spark an investigation or arrest that otherwise would not have occurred.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington had asked Inslee to veto the measure. The group’s Shankar Narayan said he and others still have serious concerns.
“There’s some visceral resistance of this idea of a national ID card and whether the federal government will misuse this information,” he said. “This really cuts across party lines.”
Now that a bill has been signed in Washington state, officials will seek review by the federal government, which will determine whether the state should be granted an additional extension past the current one of June 6.
That would allow time for the state to implement changes and to give people time to determine which license they want to get, said Tony Sermonti, legislative director for the state Department of Licensing.
Sermonti said federal officials have indicated the Washington state bill would comply with the law. He believes the state will likely be granted an additional extension and not be subject to REAL ID enforcement until October 2020.
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