Some Washington driver’s licenses will have a new look starting July 1, a result of the state’s decision to find a way to comply with the federal Real ID law.
Standard licenses and identification cards will carry an additional notification in the upper right: FEDERAL LIMITS APPLY.
Those limits mean that while the driver’s license is good for standard identification as well as operating a motor vehicle, it won’t pass muster at a federal facility that requires federal ID and isn’t proper identification for crossing an international border.
It will be acceptable identification for domestic air travel until Sept. 30, 2020, the state Department of Licensing says, because the Legislature agreed to put notification starting next month on new standard licenses and state-issued ID cards.
Neither of those state-issued cards require proof that the applicant is a legal resident of the state. Standard licenses issued before July 1 will still be accepted also until that deadline, even if they don’t have the statement.
At the same time, lawmakers lowered the price of an enhanced driver’s license or ID card, which requires that proof and has enhanced security features, to $78 for six years. Those licenses can be used for driving and standard ID, as well for boarding a plane after Sept. 30, 2020, entry into certain federal facilities and at border crossings.
Congress passed the Real ID law in 2005 in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but an unusual coalition of legislators fought making Washington comply until last year. Some Democrats balked at any wholesale change that would keep undocumented residents from getting a license, because no license meant no insurance, which is required by law and means a driver wasn’t covered for any liability from an accident. Opponents also argued that a license indicating it doesn’t meet the federal law would flag the holder to have his or her immigration status checked, and possibly deported.
Some Republicans argued that Washington should require everyone who gets a driver’s license to prove citizenship or legal residence, because licenses can sometimes be used to apply for government benefits or to register to vote, although would-be voters are required to sign a statement they are citizens and face prosecution if they lie.
The state’s initial response to Real ID was to offer the enhanced license without changing the standard license, but critics complained about the cost. A six-year standard license costs $54, the enhanced license initially cost $108 – almost the cost of a passport, which is good for 10 years.
People who are worried about being able to board a plane should buy a passport, opponents said.
As lawmakers debated, the state received extensions from the deadline to comply with the federal law from the Department of Homeland Security. But in 2015, the department refused to grant another extension without some changes, and said standard licenses wouldn’t be good for boarding commercial planes starting in 2018. The new system was passed and signed into law in May 2017.
One of the compromises was the decision to lower the cost of the enhanced license. Another was that holding a standard license can’t be the cause of any investigation into legal residence.
Extensions from DHS resumed, and the current one ends on Oct. 10, 2018. But the state Department of Licensing will apply for a ruling in September that the new system is in full compliance and is confident DHS will certify it through Sept. 30, 2020. After that, however, a standard license won’t be accepted by the Transportation Security Administration for boarding domestic flights. Travelers will need to have a passport, an enhanced license or some other form of federal ID showing they are legally in the country.
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