Recent news stories have focused on the issue of Minnesota’s non-compliance with a federal law called REAL ID. Those stories include discussions that non-compliance may mean difficulty in boarding a commercial aircraft in 2016. I’d like to answer some frequently asked questions about this topic.
What is REAL ID?
REAL ID is a set of standards and procedures passed by Congress and enacted into law in 2005 that were intended to improve security of driver’s licenses and personal identification cards. A critical component of REAL ID compliance is the storage and retention of source documents (information you provide to get your license). The federal REAL ID Act mandates the retention rate of seven years for paper copies and ten years for source documents. REAL ID requires that states verify an applicant’s date of birth, Social Security number, and principal place of residence. Additionally, it verifies whether the applicant is lawfully present in the United States.
To meet these requirements, states may be required to verify the data contained in the presented identification source documents against several different federal databases. However, officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have stated that the data is not being stored in a centralized data base as part of REAL ID nor is DHS “given the keys” to it. Rather, states remain in control of their data.
Why is Minnesota not in compliance?
Throughout the debate on the national and state level, questions were raised over privacy issues, civil liberties, data security, and how states would handle this unfunded mandate – since they would bear the financial burden of meeting the new standards.
Four years later, the legislature acted on these concerns. During the 2009 Legislative Session, the Minnesota House voted 133-0 and the Minnesota Senate voted 64-1 to prohibit the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety from taking any action to implement or to plan for the implementation of REAL ID. Governor Pawlenty signed this bill into law.
Why is this an issue now?
According to officials from DHS, if Minnesota is still not in compliance, a standard Minnesota driver’s license will not be an acceptable form of primary identification when the final phase of REAL ID is enacted. DHS will give non-compliant states 120 days notice before enforcement and have stated it will not begin immediately in January of 2016.
What will happen in 2016?
DHS has determined that Minnesota “meets or plans to meet” 32 of the 43 REAL ID requirements. Extensions are available for meeting the REAL ID standards, but states must be showing progress or a path towards completing the requirements. Minnesota is currently prohibited from receiving an extension because of legislation passed in 2009, but both Governor Dayton and House Republicans have sent letters to DHS asking for an extension.
The 2016 Legislative Session is scheduled to begin on March 8, 2016. During a meeting with legislators on September 29, officials from DHS indicated that they understood that no legislative action could possibly occur until then – unless the governor were to call a special session.
What are the alternatives?
Minnesota currently has a state source of identification that is accepted under REAL ID standards – the Enhanced Driver’s License. This is an optional enhancement to a standard Minnesota driver’s license which facilitates easier border crossings to Canada, Mexico, and some Central American countries.
In Minnesota, an Enhanced Driver’s License costs an extra $15 over a standard license and requires greater identity verification measures to receive: a birth certificate (or State Department form verifying legal status in the United States), Social Security card (or tax return), proof of photographic identity, and two documents proving Minnesota residency.
A passport also serves as a compliant form of identification for commercial travel purposes.
Is Minnesota the only state not in compliance?
Today, Minnesota is the only state that is not compliant with REAL ID or currently on a path toward compliance. Thirty-one states or territories have received extensions toward full compliance. Twenty-three states or territories have full compliance.
Both Governor Dayton and House Republicans have sent letters asking for an extension.
Should I still make travel plans for next year?
Yes. During the meeting with state legislators on September 29, officials from DHS indicated that those with scheduled travel plans in early 2016 should not change their plans based on the fact they only have a standard-issued state driver’s license.
How is the legislature going to proceed?
The bipartisan Legislative Commission on Data Practices will continue to investigate the cost and privacy concerns regarding REAL ID in the coming weeks. As we move forward, the legislature will take time to thoroughly examine the privacy risks and costs associated with complying with REAL ID, and will continue to work with DHS to ensure Minnesotans can continue to travel without hindrance.
If you have further questions on this topic, please feel free to contact me at Rep.Joyce.Peppin@house.mn or 651-296-7806.