ST. PAUL, Minn. - The leader of the Minnesota House told reporters a deal could be reached by the end of the week on the Real ID bill, but the daunting details are yet to be hammered out by a House-Senate conference committee.
The pressure is building because Minnesotans will no longer be able to board airplanes or visit military bases with a regular driver's license beginning Jan. 22, 2018.
Without Real ID compliant licenses, Minnesotans will have to present passports or other forms of identification along with their licenses at airports and other federally controlled facilities. If Minnesota passes a law this year the state may be granted an extension, in recognition of the fact that it would take several years to issue a new license to everyone who wants one.
The bill that passed the Senate is a simpler piece of legislation that enables the Dept. of Public Safety, or DPS, to create and issue new driver's licenses that are compliant with the Dept. of Homeland Security's Real ID protocol.
That features the ability to ping a motorist's application off the databases of federal government and other states to make sure the person isn't licensed in multiple states, and is in fact entitled to hold a license.
The House version of the bill, however, achieves another important Republican priority. It adds extra language that bars DPS from issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Those immigrants currently can't get driver's licenses in Minnesota, based on administrative rules in place within the Dept. of Public Safety's Driver and Vehicle Services.
And Gov. Mark Dayton said last week he doubts that can be changed simply through rule making, but would require action by the legislature if the political wind ever changes on that issue.
"Those were the governor’s words – he said he did not believe he could do that change that through rule making," Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt told reporters Tuesday.
"I think we could take that language – exactly what he said - and put that into the bill. And then everybody should be in agreement."
But the sentiment was strong with the Minnesota Senate to pass a "clean bill" without any additional language, so the negotiations between the House and the Senate could drag on much longer.
"The bill that passed off the Senate floor by a vote of 60 to 7 could pass out of the Minnesota House tomorrow with 100 percent support," Rep. Melissa Hortman, the House Democratic Minority Leader told KARE.
"So why muck it up with all these controversial, divisive issues?"
In the Senate Republicans hold a slim one-seat majority, and some Republicans will vote against Real ID based on data privacy concerns. So the bill will have to attract some Democratic votes in order to pass the Senate.
Before 2016 there were several efforts in the legislature to create special driving-only licenses for undocumented immigrants, but those initiatives went by the wayside as Republicans consolidated power at the State Capitol.
Gov. Dayton said this session he'd entertain the notion of adding special licenses for immigrants to the Real ID bill, but it wouldn't be a deal breaker if that doesn't happen. Senate Democrats have thus far refused to vote for any Real ID that contains language pertaining to immigrant licenses.
Republican Rep. Dennis Smith of Maple Grove said his focus during conference committee is getting a bill that will comply with federal standards.
The committee met Tuesday so that staff could go over point by point, explaining the difference between the House and Senate versions. The panel must come up with a compromise version that can pass both chambers without any changes.