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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Washington Senate passes REAL ID changes

OLYMPIA -- Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, argues against changing state driver's licenses to comply with the federal the REAL ID laws during a debate Tuesday while Sens. Steve Conway and Maureen Walsh look on (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA -- Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, argues against changing state driver's licenses to comply with the federal the REAL ID laws during a debate Tuesday while Sens. Steve Conway and Maureen Walsh look on (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Washington moved a step closer to having driver’s licenses that meet federal standards, but not before national debate over immigration policy flared on the Senate floor. 

The bill would mark the standard driver’s license as not meeting rules that make it valid for boarding an airplane starting next year but lower the cost of an enhanced license, which can be used for that. It passed the Senate and was sent to the House on a 45-4 vote. 

But several senators who voted for the bill said they did so reluctantly, either because it was a sign the state was too lax on dealing with undocumented immigrants, or signalling they weren’t welcome in Washington.

“We’re grouping together into one bundle people who have comer here legally with those who came here illegally. That’s not fair,” Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said. “If you’re here illegally, you still get a license.”

Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, said he objects to the federal government telling the state how it has to structure its laws for driver’s licenses and state identification. Denying people who don’t have documents that shows they are legally in the United States won’t keep them from driving to work, he said, it will just make them impossible to insure and cost other drivers money if they’re in an accident.

“I don’t believe it is our job in Washington state to police federal immigration laws,” Liias said.

Both Liias and Ericksen voted for the bill. said they’d vote for the bill. Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, said she wouldn’t. The two-license system “opens up the possibility for harassment” against those with a standard license and police didn’t have clarity on how to deal with them. 

“Washington stands up for being a welcoming state,” Saldana said.

The state has tried unsuccessfully to change its licenses ever since the federal government passed the REAL ID law in 2005. Under the latest proposal, a statement will be added to a standard license that it is not valid for federal identification, such as entering a military facility or some nuclear installations, and starting next January 22, boarding a commercial airplane. The enhanced license contains a special radio frequency identification tag similar to those used in passports.

The enhanced driver’s license currently costs $108 for six years, compared to $54 for a standard license. Opponents of changing the current system argued that people who want federally recognized identification could save money by buying a passport, which costs $110 but is good for 10 years.

The bill had proposed dropping the fee temporarily to $90, but before Tuesday’s vote the Senate amended it to make those licenses $66, and not raise the price until the Legislature approves.

Senate Bill 5008, which changes the state’s driver’s license system so that the cheaper standard license says it is not valid for federal identification purposes, passed 45-4. Among Spokane-area senators, Republicans Mike Baumgartner, Mike Padden, Mark Schoesler and Shelley Short, and Democrat Andy Billig all voted yes.



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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