OLYMPIA – The House on Tuesday passed a bill that would create a two-tiered licensing system that seeks to bring Washington state in line with federal identification requirements, but further negotiations with the Senate are likely before a final bill is approved.
The measure cleared the Democratic-controlled chamber on a 69-28 bipartisan vote, but because the House made changes to the bill in committee, it must go back to the Republican-led Senate, where a key leader on the issue has already said he won’t concur on the amendments.
“There’s more work to be done,” said Republican Sen. Curtis King, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
King said he hopes they can work out a compromise and get it passed off both floors and sent to the governor before the legislative session ends on April 23. If lawmakers go into special session due to state budget issues, as expected, bills that haven’t passed both chambers of the Legislature revert back to their house of origin.
For years, state lawmakers have struggled over how to best comply with the REAL ID Act, a 2005 federal law that requires state driver’s licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they are legally in the United States.
Under the latest schedule released by the federal government, residents of states that are not in compliance and do not have an extension will need additional identification for access to some military bases and federal facilities, and to board commercial flights starting on Jan. 22, 2018. Residents of states that have extensions will have until Oct. 21, 2020.
Last month, Washington state was granted a temporary extension from the federal government, through June 6. It notes that the extension was granted – and future extensions would be considered – with the expectation that the state would pass a bill addressing the issue.
House Democratic Rep. Judy Clibborn, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, noted during the floor debate that the bill wasn’t finished, but said that lawmakers must keep working toward a solution and settle things this year “before the federal government comes down and decides for us.”
Washington state already offers, but does not mandate, enhanced driver’s licenses and IDs that require proof of U.S. citizenship and are already valid under the federal law.
The measure being considered by Washington lawmakers would keep the state’s current enhanced license and would mark standard state licenses as not valid for federal purposes.
The Senate had lowered the price of the five-year enhanced license from $108 to $66, but the House raised it back to its current price. The House also added language that would prohibit the marked licenses from being used to determine or infer citizenship or immigration status.
Several Republican floor amendments were rejected in the House, including one that would have set the price of an enhanced license to the same price as a standard license – $54.
Republican Rep. Morgan Irwin opposed the measure, saying it was a bifurcated system that doesn’t require proving legal status for some residents.
“We’re setting up a situation in which we have these two IDs, and one of them doesn’t have a whole lot of meaning,” he said.
Just 25 states and the District of Columbia are currently in compliance with the law, though most of the remaining states and territories have extensions, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s website. Before last month’s extension was granted to Washington, it was among Montana, Minnesota, Missouri and Maine as the only states that were not compliant with the law and without an extension from the federal government.
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