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Without changes, standard Washington driver licenses can’t be used to board a plane starting in 2018

This is an image of the Washington State Enhanced Driver License Courtesy of Washington State Dept. of Licensing (COURTESY WA DEPT OF LICENSING / COURTESY WA DEPT OF LICENSING)
This is an image of the Washington State Enhanced Driver License Courtesy of Washington State Dept. of Licensing (COURTESY WA DEPT OF LICENSING / COURTESY WA DEPT OF LICENSING)

OLYMPIA – Washington lawmakers will try, try again next year to make the driver’s licenses most residents use meet federal laws that would allow them to be used when boarding an airplane.

Past efforts to bring Washington in line with the federal REAL ID law have failed at least twice, and after the last failed attempt in 2014, the state lost its extension. Now Washington is one of eight states whose residents won’t be able to use their standard license to board a plane in January 2018, and signs to that effect will be going up in airports in the coming weeks.

Idaho’s standard licenses already comply with most parts of the law and are good at least until January 2020.

Washington offers an Enhanced Driver’s License, which does meet the federal law, but it’s more expensive. Officials from the Washington state Transportation Department told a House committee Thursday they were working on a new proposal to make the standard license comply.

Washington is the only state that does not require proof of citizenship or legal residence to get a standard driver’s license, Tony Sermonti, of the department, told House Transportation Committee.

In the past some lawmakers have balked at adding that requirement for fear that undocumented immigrants would refuse to get licenses, which would mean they couldn’t get auto insurance and other motorists would bear the financial burdens in an accident.

Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, said it isn’t fair to force all drivers to pay more money for a license just so some residents have it handy to board a plane. They can pay for an Enhanced Driver’s License, a passport or one of several other forms of acceptable identification.

“If you need something to travel, there are other options,” Morris said. He also asked Sermonti why the state hasn’t submitted the Enhanced Driver’s License as its form of REAL ID.

It did, about two years ago, Sermonti said. Homeland Security rejected it.

One problem was that the standard license doesn’t have anything that indicates it is not valid for federal identification, said Jennifer Harris, of the Transportation Department.

Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said lawmakers will try to come up with a plan that meets federal standards in the coming legislative session. She’s hopeful that the costs for compliance aren’t as high as originally projected, which was another impediment to previous efforts, but she wouldn’t make any predictions on the outcome. “There are a lot of things swirling around on this,” she said.

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