New license may help at border

OLYMPIA – Washington lawmakers on Wednesday approved a new $40 enhanced driver’s license aimed at easing border crossings into British Columbia, possibly in lieu of a passport.

Acting swiftly at the request of Gov. Chris Gregoire, the state Senate voted 43-3 to authorize the new license, which will be loaded with proof of citizenship and other information that can be easily scanned at the border. The governor expects to get approval Friday from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for a pilot project to test the new approach at the state-provincial border.

State officials said that beginning in January, the enhanced licenses could provide an alternative to the more expensive $97 passport expected to be required for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Canada in June 2009.

Regular driver’s licenses also are being accepted at the border until June 2009.

The optional new license will incorporate proof of citizenship and Washington residency and allow search of federal databanks, including criminal records.

The licenses would cost $40 and would have to be picked up in person at a driver’s license office, starting in January. The state House approved them earlier.

Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, and Gregoire are expected to sign papers in Seattle on Friday to allow the state to use the enhanced licenses as the country’s first pilot project to test a cheaper, secure alternative to passports, Gregoire spokeswoman Holly Armstrong said after the Senate vote.

“The state of Washington has put forward a very innovative proposal and Homeland Security has been excited about this from the get-go,” said Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke. “We appreciate the balancing of security with efficiency and we think this proposal has a lot of merit.”

He said other states may follow Washington’s lead.

“The governor proposed the pilot project because with all the talk of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, there was a concern about the impact on tourism and economic ties, particularly with the (2010 Winter) Olympics coming up” in Vancouver, B.C., and Whistler, B.C., Armstrong said.

“She understands the need to look at security issues and to address those, but she and Premier (Gordon) Campbell believe there is a better way to do this, an alternative to the burdensome and expensive requirement for passports.”

For a family of four, the passport requirement would get very expensive and it would certainly curtail spur-of-the-moment border crossings, Armstrong said.

British Columbia is expected to develop a similar license to expedite crossings into Washington state. John Van Dongen, minister of state for intergovernmental relations, said the province is pleased with state and federal approval of the pilot project.

“Our government is on board,” he said. “We are definitely working on the same kind of driver’s license platform as an alternative, secure travel document. We don’t have a target date at this time, but we will have a parallel system. There is nothing but upside in working together.”

Canada is the state’s most important trading partner and easy crossings are critical to both tourism and commerce, said state Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham, whose district includes four international border crossings.

Brandland said during Senate debate that he recently cooled his heels for 45 minutes trying to get back into Washington from British Columbia, and noted that people with good ID were getting through the checkpoints much quicker.

State Senate Transportation Chairwoman Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, said the rapid development of a whole new license was a major undertaking by the state Department of Licensing.

“This will make a difference to so many businesses who are so dependent on those tourists crossing the border on a regular basis,” she said. “This will offer a more reasonable way for people.”

The U.S. Postal Service will hold a Passport Fair from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the main Everett Post Office, 3102 Hoyt Ave. Bring two passport-size photos, proof of U.S citizenship and identity, and a passport application. The fees are $97 for individuals age 16 and older and $82 for those under age 16. Renewals are $67. A photo service will be available at the fair for $15.

Processing and delivery of passports currently is taking about 10 weeks for regular service. Expedited service, for an additional $60, is taking three to four weeks.

New passport regulations, which took effect in January, require all U.S. citizens to present a valid passport when traveling by air between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda.

For more passport information, go to

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