Relax, travelers. You won’t soon be blocked from boarding flights if you only have a standard Washington state driver’s license as identification.
That day has been officially pushed back to Jan. 22, 2018, so the Legislature has the current session or the next one to bring the state into full compliance with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005.
Sooner is better, because this could get messy.
The prospect of being left behind at airport gates arose when the Department of Homeland Security sent a letter to the Washington Department of Licensing in October stating that a request for an extension had been denied.
It was a terse rejection that didn’t explain the ramifications. Hence, speculation spread.
On Jan. 8, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson issued a news release that filled in the blanks. The 2018 deadline affects all states that have yet to comply, unless they’ve been given an extension. Washington was not, possibly because the Legislature failed to move a bill.
DOL’s legislative director warned lawmakers last January that the feds would not look kindly on inaction.
Washington is one of 27 states that are not fully compliant, but only one of two that doesn’t require state ID holders to prove citizenship or legal status. New Mexico is the other. That will be the most controversial change.
The state does offer an enhanced driver’s license, which is compliant and can be used to travel to Canada and Mexico, but only about 500,000 people have one. Ten times that many have the standard driver’s license and about 600,000 have regular ID cards, neither of which meets federal requirements.
The REAL ID Act was passed after the 9/11 Commission recommended the nation beef up identification requirements. The fear – a valid one – was that if terrorists could readily obtain fraudulent IDs, they could gain access to sensitive sites and more easily move about the country without drawing suspicion.
Immigration hard-liners want to leverage this moment to mandate that everyone applying for a driver’s license have proof of citizenship, but this could lead to more people driving without a license and fewer people obtaining insurance. Plus, the transportation budget would take a hit if fewer people apply for licenses.
Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee recommended the state use a two-tiered system like California’s. The enhanced license, which requires proof of citizenship, would remain. The state would also offer a limited license – and it would be marked as such – that people could use for driving, but they would need some other form of ID to board commercial flights or access some federal facilities.
Whatever the change, lawmakers should act as quickly as possible, because the transition will affect millions of Washingtonians, and is sure to cause confusion.
At least now, there is a clear deadline.
To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.