Eleven years after Congress passed a law requiring states to issue more secure driver’s licenses, Washington remains out of compliance.
As a result, drivers with regular Washington licenses may find themselves blocked trying to gain access to some federal facilities unless they have an enhanced driver’s license or another form of identification such as a passport, birth certificate or military ID.
The Air Force is considering a new policy under guidance from the Department of Defense on continuing to accept Washington driver’s licenses.
Earlier this week, a Defense Department news release said, “Defense Department installations will no longer accept driver’s licenses from Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico and Washington as proof of identity.”
For now, however, Fairchild Air Force Base will continue to accept regular Washington driver’s licenses for entry, a spokesman said Friday.
Scott King, Fairchild spokesman, said, “We are waiting for our headquarters to work it out.”
Security guards at the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Spokane are also continuing to accept regular Washington driver’s licenses for entry there.
A spokesman for the state Department of Licensing said federal facilities that directly serve the public such as national parks, courts and the Social Security Administration will not require enhanced identification.
However, this year’s tours of the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park at the Hanford site northwest of the Tri-Cities will require other forms of identification such as a passport or passport card.
Hanford currently will not accept Washington’s regular driver’s licenses for entry.
The problem could have a wider effect on Washington residents two years from now when the federal Transportation Security Administration begins requiring federally acceptable forms of identification to board a plane. That change goes into effect Jan. 22, 2018.
Brad Benfield, a spokesman for the Department of Licensing, said the solution for Washington residents is to get an enhanced driver’s license, which meets federal standards. He said the cost is an additional $3 a year and drivers may obtain the enhanced license at any time.
Larry Krauter, the CEO at Spokane International Airport, said he has seen nothing in writing from TSA that indicates the enhanced driver’s license will be accepted at airports. He said he wants to see that assurance.
Benfield said the problem stems from a disagreement between Washington lawmakers and the federal government over compliance with the law.
Benfield said state lawmakers passed a law that requires the federal government to provide assurances that personal information will be protected in what the federal government envisions as a kind of national identification network.
Nonetheless, he said the state is implementing measures to make Washington driver’s licenses more secure.
Also, Washington is resisting a requirement that drivers be required to prove they are in the U.S. legally.
The enhanced driver’s license meets that requirement, but the state’s regular licenses do not.
Benfield said one solution may be having a two-tiered regular license that denotes whether the driver has provided proof of legal presence in the U.S., which could include a visa or work permit.
All states are being required to comply with the REAL ID Act or face repercussions such as being denied access to some federal facilities.
As in Washington, Idaho lawmakers initially balked at complying with the law. But last year they tweaked state law to allow Idaho to issue licenses that would be acceptable for commercial air travel.
The federal law stemmed from the 9/11 attacks in which hijackers carried state driver’s licenses.
For more information and a list of federally approved forms of identification, go to tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/identification.
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