State legislators fight REAL ID Act

Legislators fighting REAL ID Act

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Inside the state capitol, there is a potential battle brewing not between Republicans and Democrats, but state legislators and the federal government.

It ultimately could impact Minnesotans ability to get on an airplane.

It all has to do with the federal REAL ID Act, which was passed in 2005 in the wake of security concerns after the 9/11 attacks. It mandates states to increase security measures on their state driver licenses or ID cards. So far, most have implemented the changes, or at least started to, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Five states have not, including Minnesota.

"I think there are times the states have to say no to the federal government," said State Senator Warren Limmer, a Republican from Maple Grove.

But Homeland Security is warning states that have not complied, a state driver license may not be enough to board a commercial airplane no sooner than 2016. The federal government has already phased in changes since last year. People with non-complaint ID's cannot get into some federal buildings.

The REAL ID looks a bit different than a normal driver license. There are more pictures of the driver on the card and there is a star on the upper right hand corner indicating it meets federal standards.

But critics worry more about what you don't see on the card.

"It's kind of a like a driver's license on steroids," said Limmer. "I don't know how a plastic card is going to protect me from a terrorist, but it's great for accumulating data."

In 2009, Limmer and DFL State Rep. Carlos Mariani of St. Paul championed a bill that overwhelmingly passed in the legislature. It prohibited the state Department of Public Safety to implement or even plan to implement the REAL ID Act in Minnesota.

They argued, as they do now, that this would essentially be a national ID card with the government able to gather all sorts of data from it.

"We didn't want that sort of heavy federal intrusion," said Mariani

But last month, the commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety sent a letter to a handful of legislators telling them this issue must be addressed.

"As soon as January 2016, Minnesotans may not be allowed to board a federally-regulated commercial aircraft using a Minnesota Driver's License or identification card," wrote Commissioner Ramona Dohman.

Minnesotans would then have to use a passport or buy a Minnesota Enhanced Driver License, which costs $15 more than a normal license. It allows people to travel across the Canadian and Mexican borders without a passport.

A spokesperson for Homeland Security would not answer questions about the REAL ID Act, referring KARE 11 to its website where it claims the ID card is not a national ID and there is no federal data base.

While Limmer doesn't want to give the federal government an inch, Mariani says he's willing to find a compromise, something he thinks can happen before next year.

"Let's find a way to meet them on this issue," he said.


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