ST. PAUL - Minnesota driver’s licenses are on the verge of not being accepted as valid identification for airline travel.
The Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, could implement new national driver’s license standards for commercial flying as early as next year, and Minnesota is one of four states deemed to have noncompliant driver’s licenses
Under the new rules, Minnesotans would need another, accepted form of identification - such as a passport or enhanced driver’s license - to get on a plane.
The change is part of the Real ID Act, which was passed by Congress in 2005 and aims to thwart terrorism by setting national ID standards.
But Minnesota legislators had concerns over costs the state would incur, as well as provisions of the act being used to collect personal data, and the state responded by passing its own law in 2009 prohibiting it from complying with the Real ID Act.
The passage of the state law was nearly unanimous and was meant to leverage negotiations with the federal government over the new rules, said state Sen. Scott Dibble, chairman of the senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee.
“There was real concern over whether we make ourselves more or less safe if we become part of a large, national ID registry system,” Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said of the vote.
While the implementation of the new ID standards was delayed, negotiations between the Minnesota and federal governments over policy issues never happened, he said. Now, legislators are discussing what to do next.
“I continue to have all the concerns I had back then,” Dibble said. “I just don’t know if we should be playing chicken like this with the feds at this point.”
He said it’s unclear whether the state will end up overturning its law and expects “quite the debate around it.”
“Is it a no-brainer that we’re going to just fold our cards and knuckle under?” Dibble said. “That remains to be seen. We haven’t really had the wider discussion among the Legislature.”
If the state decides to change its 2009 law next year, Dibble said he expects it to happen before the new federal ID requirements go into effect for airline travel.
The Real ID Act, which President George W. Bush signed into law in May 2005, requires states to verify that an applicant is in the country legally, using federal databases and original documents such as birth certificates and Social Security cards. It also imposes security measures for workers who handle driver’s license information or who produce the physical documents. For some states, meeting the law’s requirement that states secure the locations where driver’s licenses are produced can be challenging. Some states also have expressed privacy concerns, such as issues with storing digital copies of sensitive documents.
The implementation of the Real ID Act has been rolling out in phases, beginning with enforcement at nuclear power plants and federal facilities. Full enforcement of the first three phases is scheduled to be complete in October, and an enforcement date for the fourth phase - applying to those traveling on aircraft - has yet to be set.
The new ID requirements have already affected Minnesota driver’s license holders, according to Dibble, who said he knows of one person with a Minnesota license who was denied access to a federal office building.
Before the changes are applied to commercial flying, the Department of Homeland Security will evaluate the effects of the new standards and the progress states have made in meeting them. That review will be used to determine when the new standards would apply to aircraft.
“DHS will ensure the public has ample advanced notice before identification requirements for boarding aircraft or entering additional types of Federal facilities change,” the department says on its website.
Louisiana, New Hampshire and New York are the other three states that have driver’s licenses noncompliant with federal rules; all other states are compliant with the new rules or have received an extension from the federal government.
Since 2014, Minnesotans have had the option of applying for an enhanced driver’s license, which costs $15 more than a regular license and serves as a passport for limited travel. The card allows residents to re-enter the U.S. when returning from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda or the Caribbean.
Wisconsin, which has been deemed compliant with the new federal rules, announced Thursday that it will begin issuing new driver’s licenses this fall that its Department of Motor Vehicles claims are the most secure in North America.
Stateline.org contributed to this report.