OLYMPIA, Wash. - Airport officials on Monday told a Washington state Senate panel that thousands of passengers may be turned away from the state's airports starting in 2018 if it doesn't move quickly to ensure compliance with a federal law that requires driver's licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they're legally in the U.S.
The Senate Transportation Commission held a work session on REAL ID in order to hear from airport officials, airlines and other groups in advance of the next legislative session that begins in January.
The 2005 federal law sets minimum standards for government-issued identification such as driver's licenses that are required to enter certain areas in federal buildings or board commercial airplanes.
Those standards include requiring applicants to provide proof of identity and legal US residency and requiring states to use counterfeit-resistant security features in the IDs.
Washington is among just a handful of states that aren't in compliance with the REAL ID act and don't have an extension from the federal government, meaning millions of residents who currently have standard Washington driver's licenses now need additional ID for access to some military bases and will eventually be required to show additional documentation for air travel unless the Legislature acts.
"We all know what a difficult issue this is, but I believe that we can't wait any longer to address this matter," said Senate Transportation Committee chairman Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima.
Only 24 states are fully compliant with REAL ID. But Washington is one of only three states that are not compliant and currently without an extension or a grace period for enforcement. Eventually, Washington residents who only have standard licenses will need additional ID in order to board commercial aircraft.
Under the latest schedule released by the federal government late last year, unless lawmakers pass a law that puts the state in compliance or gets an extension from the government, Washington residents will need additional identification to board commercial flights starting on Jan. 22, 2018. Residents of other states that currently have extensions will have until Oct. 21, 2020.
"We need to be able to move passengers through our airport safely and efficiently," said Wendy Reiter, director of aviation security at Port of Seattle, which operates Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. "If in January 2018 our state's standard issue driver's license is not accepted by the Transportation Security Administration, the impact to our operations will be significant. On a given day, we may be having to turn away thousands of passengers."
Washington is the only state in the country that does not require proof of legal presence in the U.S. to get a standard state driver's license or ID.
However, the state does offer, voluntarily and at an extra cost, enhanced driver's licenses and IDs that require proof of U.S. citizenship and are valid under the federal law.
Republican Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver, a member of the committee, expressed frustration that the state hasn't yet taken action.
"We have got to have a secure driver's license in this state," he said. "A government ID card should only be provided to citizens of the country. Period. I hope this Legislature and my colleagues have the intestinal fortitude that it takes to get it done this year."
A previously proposed plan to the Legislature that was never officially introduced would create a two-tiered licensing system that would keep the current enhanced license but would also create a standard state license that would indicate it is not valid for federal purposes. King said that a REAL ID bill will be introduced early next year but specifics have not been decided.
Andres Mantilla, chairman of the Washington state Commission on Hispanic Affairs, said marked licenses would be a "scarlet letter" for some populations.
"The more tiers that are made available, the more avenues there are for potential discrimination of our community," he said.
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