2-tier system for driver’s license, ID cards, still in works

OLYMPIA — A plan to bring Washington state into compliance with tougher federal requirements for proof of U.S. residency for driver’s licenses and other government-sanctioned ID has not been immediately embraced by lawmakers.

The proposed bill, requested by the state Department of Licensing and supported by Gov. Jay Inslee, would create a two-tier system for licenses and would also repeal a 2007 law that prohibits spending state money to comply with the national standards unless federal funding was provided and other concerns were allayed.

State officials expected the plan to be introduced in the House and Senate last week, but no bill has been introduced and the lawmakers who head up the transportation committees in each chamber aren’t talking. Through their office staff, both Democratic Rep. Judy Clibborn of Mercer Island and Republican Sen. Curtis King of Yakima said they had no comment on whether they support efforts to redesign the state’s standard driver’s licenses and ID cards in order to comply with the 2005 REAL ID act, which was passed by Congress in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

A work session on the issue has been scheduled for Monday before the Senate Transportation Committee.

Under the current draft language of the agency-request bill, starting on Nov. 30, 2017, standard licenses would be marked with a statement like “federal restrictions apply” or “not valid for federal purposes,” and enhanced licenses — ones that require proof of U.S. citizenship and are already offered by the state — would remain in place and be valid under the federal requirements.

Washington residents — regardless of legal status — wouldn’t be required to get the enhanced licenses. However, those who don’t may eventually need a passport or have to go through other screening processes in order to travel domestically or enter federal buildings.

The REAL ID law, which has had several implementation delays, has started restricting access to some facilities within the past year and, no sooner than 2016, will require the compliant licenses for boarding commercial aircraft. State officials had hoped that bills would be introduced before the most recent deadline — affecting access to semi-restricted areas of secure federal buildings — took effect at the start of this past week.

“There’s no question that when the Department of Homeland Security expands their enforcement of this to commercial aviation that the impacts will be very significant,” said Tony Sermonti, the legislative director for the Department of licensing.

Rep. Luis Moscoso, a Democrat from Mountlake Terrace who is vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said Thursday that he’s still weighing the proposal as written against what the federal regulations will require.

He said lawmakers in his chamber need to have several more discussions on the issue to make sure they properly balance constitutional issues with the issue of people who are in the country without legal status.

“We would not need a REAL ID or anything like that if we had a comprehensive and functioning immigration system,” he said.

Meanwhile, state officials are still waiting to hear whether the federal government will grant the state an extension to the enforcement of that law while they try to make progress on changing the state law. In a letter sent to the state in July, federal officials wrote that while the state has made progress to enhancing security of licenses and identity cards, they couldn’t justify granting an extension. State officials sent a response earlier this month noting the proposed legislation.

More than two dozen states and territories haven’t fulfilled the national ID law’s mandates, which require driver’s licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they’re legally in the United States. But Washington is one of only nine states that haven’t received a compliance extension from the federal government.

Washington and New Mexico are the only states that do not require proof of legal presence for a state license or ID. Other states give restricted licenses to people who can’t prove they are in the U.S. legally.

However, Washington is only one of five that currently already have enhanced driver’s licenses and IDs that require proof of U.S. citizenship to obtain and are compliant with the REAL ID act. Those licenses are voluntary, and as of December, more than 460,000 Washington residents have gotten either an enhanced driver’s license or enhanced ID card. In comparison, there are about 5.4 million people in the state with regular licenses, and an additional 625,000 with regular ID cards.

Advocacy groups and others have expressed concerns over forcing immigrant groups — both those in the country illegally and those in the country legally but not U.S. citizens — to have a marked license.

In a letter sent to Inslee last week, officials with the Commission on Hispanic affairs cited the impact that the proposed law could have on the community and the estimated 230,000 immigrants who are living in the state without legal status.

The commission wrote that “we believe that the passage of this legislation will reopen and expose avenues for racial profiling particularly in areas of housing, banking, employment and law enforcement.”

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