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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Will this REAL ID effort stand up?

OLYMPIA – Lawmakers at the top of the transportation policy pyramid have what they think is a solution to Washington’s long, and likely losing, battle over its driver’s license system.

The feds say the state’s current standard licenses don’t meet the requirements of federal law, which means that eventually a Washington resident would need something else to get on a plane or into many U.S. government facilities where someone checks your ID. 

A standard Washington license or identification card doesn’t say whether you are in the country legally, so it doesn’t pass muster with the REAL ID law. The state has an enhanced driver’s license which meets those requirements, but to get one, a person must show up at a state Licensing office with proof of citizenship, identity and residence. And shell out more money. A standard driver’s license $54 for six years, but an enhanced license, which has certain technology that allows it to be scanned for extra security, is $108 for six years.

The plan by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, and House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, is to change the standard license so it says it’s not valid ID for federal purposes, and to lower the fee slightly for the enhanced license so it would be $90 for six years. 

The former would likely make the feds happy. The latter might not satisfy some of the critics who have been fighting a change under the theory that people who want something to satisfy the feds or the airlines can buy a passport. At $110, a passport is only a few bucks cheaper than the current enhanced license. It’s good for 10 years, which makes it cheaper on a per-year basis than the proposed new one. The rest of the state shouldn’t have to revise its system to satisfy them, critics say.

The Legislature has been trying without much luck to resolve this problem for years. It’s becoming less of an academic exercise, though, because in early 2018, regular Washington driver’s licenses aren’t going to be accepted for folks getting on a plane, and we all know that however much advance notice people get, someone’s going to be steamed when they show up at Spokane International and are told they can’t get on their flight.

Matching bills by King and Clibborn were “pre-filed” for the 2017 legislative session, which is basically the state’s last chance to head off that problem.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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