Washington Senate approves REAL ID compliance bill

Washington DOL file photo.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Senate took another step Tuesday toward bringing Washington state into compliance with federal identification requirements, passing a measure that would create a two-tiered licensing system.

The bill was approved by the Republican-led chamber with a 45-4 bipartisan vote and now heads the Democratic-controlled House for consideration.

Republican Sen. Curtis King, the sponsor of the measure, called it a reasonable bill that allows the state to comply with the federal law "and protect the interests of all of us in the state of Washington."

For years, lawmakers have struggled on how to best comply with the REAL ID Act, a 2005 federal law that requires state driver's licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they are legally in the United States.

Washington is among just a handful of states that are not compliant with the law and don't have an extension from the federal government, meaning that starting in January 2018, holders of Washington licenses and ID cards will be required to show additional documentation for domestic air travel unless the Legislature acts.

The state already offers, but does not mandate, enhanced driver's licenses and IDs that require proof of U.S. citizenship and are already valid under the federal law.

The measure being considered by Washington lawmakers would keep the current enhanced license and would mark standard state licenses as not valid for federal purposes. An amendment that was approved on the Senate floor Tuesday lowers the price of the enhanced license to $66 for a five-year license. The current price of an enhanced license is $108.

Opponents of the measure called REAL ID an unfunded mandate by the federal government that goes against Washington values. "It opens up the opportunity for discrimination and harassment," said Democratic Sen. Rebecca Saldana, who voted against the bill.

Just 25 states and the District of Columbia are currently in compliance with the law, according to the Department of Homeland Security's website.

Washington, Montana, Minnesota, Missouri and Maine are the only five states that are not compliant with the law and don't have an extension from the federal government, meaning millions of residents who currently have standard driver's licenses now need additional ID for access to some military bases and federal facilities, and they'll eventually be required to show additional documentation for air travel.

Seven states — including Oregon and Alaska — have limited extensions until June 6. Eighteen other states and territories have extensions until Oct. 10.

Under the latest schedule released by the federal government, residents of states that are not in compliance and do not have an extension 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.

In addition to the measure in Washington, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Carolina all have introduced bills related to REAL ID compliance this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.