State lawmakers struggle to move forward on REAL ID compliance

OLYMPIA — As a key legislative deadline approaches, efforts 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 don’t appear to have enough support in each chamber to move forward this year.

Republican Sen. Curtis King, who heads up the Senate Transportation Committee, said Monday that a draft proposal by the state Department of Licensing will not be introduced in that chamber this legislative session. Democratic Rep. Judy Clibborn, chairwoman of the transportation committee in the House, said she’s still working on the issue, and said that even though Friday marks a deadline for transportation-related bills to pass out of committee, if enough support eventually comes together, a bill could still emerge later this session.

The federal REAL ID law, passed in 2005, requires proof of U.S. citizenship or proof of lawful status in the U.S. in order for a license to be valid for federal use. The 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.

Earlier this month, the federal government granted the state a temporary extension from the enforcement of federal requirements for state driver’s licenses and ID cards that require proof of legal U.S. residency for holders who want to use them to access certain areas of federal buildings and eventually board a commercial flight. The extension from the Department of Homeland Security will run through Oct. 10, during which time federal agencies can continue to accept driver’s licenses and identification cards issued by Washington for official purposes.

King noted the implementation delays, along with other pressing issues the Legislature needs to address this year, as reasons why lawmakers weren’t interested in tackling the subject just yet.

“I think the prevailing view is, let’s just see what they do to us in October,” he said. “Then we’ll have the session in 2016 to try and make whatever changes in order to be compliant in case that’s the way they force us to go.”

Washington state already offers enhanced driver’s licenses and IDs that require proof of U.S. citizenship and are valid under the federal law.

However, only a fraction of people in the state have those licenses. As of February, more than 500,000 Washington residents have gotten an enhanced driver’s license or enhanced ID card. There are about 5.4 million people with standard licenses, and an additional 625,000 with regular ID cards.

State officials had proposed a plan to the Legislature that would create a two-tiered licensing system that would keep the current enhanced license and would create a standard state license that would indicate it is not valid for federal purposes.

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

Earlier this month, more than 60 groups — including the American Civil Liberties Union and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project — sent a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee stating their opposition to the proposal, which, they wrote, “goes against Washington’s inclusive values and discriminates against low-income people, senior citizens and noncitizens.”

More than two dozen states and territories haven’t fulfilled the national ID law’s mandates. Tony Sermonti, legislative director for the state Department of Licensing, said the state will still work with the federal government to try and secure an additional extension once the current one expires.

Clibborn said there’s a lot of emotion surrounding REAL ID law and she wants to make sure everyone’s concerns are addressed.

“We’re going to work to get it right,” she said.

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