Washington residents deserve more time and clear instructions before the federal government imposes major changes in requirements for drivers licenses and other state identification cards, Sen. Patty Murray said Wednesday.
In a letter to Jeh Johnson, the Department of Homeland Security secretary, Murray asked the federal government to back off on its ruling that Washington will be out of compliance with REAL ID laws as of Jan. 10. The announcement late last month that the department will not grant the state an extension to come into compliance with the way it issues licenses and state identification cards leaves residents confused and frustrated, she said.
“This uncertainty is unacceptable,” she wrote.
REAL ID rules were approved in 2005 to set minimum security standards for IDs used for federal purposes.
Washington does not currently require proof of citizenship or legal residence to issue a driver’s license or photo ID card, which is out of sync with the federal REAL ID requirements. Although some state legislators have pushed for such a change, others have said it would discourage undocumented residents from obtaining licenses, which would make it impossible for them to get liability insurance for their vehicles.
Washington was granted several extensions in the deadline for complying with the law.
The state does offer “enhanced” licenses or IDs with proof of citizenship. Starting next year, such enhanced identification might be required at federal buildings or for boarding an airplane, even on a domestic flight, without a passport.
Enhanced licenses or IDs are more expensive. A standard driver’s license initially costs $89; a person with proof of citizenship or legal immigration status can get the first enhanced driver’s license for $107. A person with a standard license can get it converted to an enhanced license for $3 for each year remaining on the license. Renewing an enhanced license costs $72 for six years, compared to $54 for a standard license.
The federal government gave the state an extension at the beginning of this year to comply with REAL ID. At the time, state officials were discussing legislation to add wording to licenses obtained without showing proof of citizenship that they are not valid for federal purposes. But that never passed, and the extension ran out on Oct. 10, after Homeland Security turned down a request by the state Department of Licensing for an extension through November 2017.
Homeland Security said it could start requiring enhanced Washington licenses for entry to federal buildings by Jan. 10 and is working on new rules for identification for air travel. Those rules could be released next month, Murray wrote in her letter, and the state needs time to respond to those new rules and the end of its extension.
Murray isn’t asking for a specific extension, a spokeswoman said, but more time and flexibility.
“What she wants, first and foremost, is clarification,” Leah Kennebeck said.
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