OLYMPIA, Wash. - With a deadline looming that could affect Washington residents' ability to fly domestically, the state has been granted a temporary extension from the enforcement of federal requirements for state driver's licenses and ID cards.
Last week's letter from the Department of Homeland Security, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, says the extension will run through June 6. It notes that the extension was granted with the expectation that the state would pass a bill that has already cleared the Senate and is awaiting a committee vote in the House.
For years, state 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.
"This extension is intended to provide Washington with the opportunity to take any necessary steps needed to meet all the requirements of the REAL ID Act and its implementing regulation," the letter reads. "Failure to take these steps may result in the denial of future extension requests, thereby making Washington subject to REAL ID enforcement."
The department said that throughout the extension, federal agencies can continue to accept driver's licenses and identification cards issued by Washington for official purposes. 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.
Tony Sermonti, legislative director for the state Department of Licensing, said the extension acknowledges the work lawmakers have done on the issue.
"Ultimately, the bill the Legislature is contemplating is going to minimize impacts to the public when they want to travel," he said.
Washington state already offers, but does not mandate, enhanced driver's licenses, known as EDLs, 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.
Opponents of the measure sent a letter to members of the House Transportation Committee last week, saying that the measure was unnecessary. Citing the state's current enhanced license, and the ability of those without an enhanced license to fly as long as they have alternate forms of identification, the letter said that the bill "will result increased costs to the state, endanger Washingtonians' privacy, and create a new avenue for discrimination through the marked license."
"The legislature can and should ensure that Washingtonians understand that many different documents are accepted at the airport, including EDLs, rather than implementing federal legislation that will not benefit the state," read the letter, which was signed by more than 30 groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
Just 25 states and the District of Columbia are currently in compliance with the law, though most of the remaining states and territories have extensions, according to the Department of Homeland Security's website. Before last week's extension was granted to Washington, it was among Montana, Minnesota, Missouri and Maine as the only states that were not compliant with the law and without an extension from the federal government.
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