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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington lawmakers pass bill for two-tier licensing

In this photo taken April 6, 2016, a sign at the federal courthouse in Tacoma, Wash., is shown to inform visitors of the federal government's REAL ID act. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
By Rachel La Corte Associated Press

OLYMPIA – Washington lawmakers reached agreement Thursday on a two-tiered licensing system that seeks to bring Washington state into compliance with federal identification requirements.

With final passage of the measure, lawmakers end a multiyear struggle 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.

The House passed the measure on a 55-41 vote, followed by the Senate, which passed it on a 36-13 vote. It now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

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 passed by the Legislature would keep the state’s current enhanced license and would mark standard state licenses as not valid for federal purposes.

Under the latest schedule released by the federal government, residents of states that are not in compliance with REAL ID and do not have an extension already need additional identification for access to some military bases and federal facilities and, starting on Jan. 22, 2018, to board commercial flights. Residents of states that have extensions will have until Oct. 21, 2020.

Last month, the federal government granted Washington state a temporary extension 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.

Democratic Rep. Gael Tarleton of Seattle said that many of the state’s residents would be affected if the Legislature didn’t act.

“I really think it’s important for us to know that when our people go to the airport, that they will be able to board that plane,” she said.

Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale said he was voting against the bill because it didn’t go far enough.

“What this legislation allows to continue to happen in Washington state is for people in the country illegally to be able to get a Washington state license,” he said.

Under an earlier version of the bill, the Senate had lowered the price of the five-year enhanced license from $108 to $66, but the House then raised it back to its current price. The compromise language approved Thursday makes the cost of the enhanced license $78 and also keeps changes made by House Democrats, including prohibiting the marked licenses from being used to determine or infer citizenship or immigration status or to spark an investigation or arrest that otherwise would not have occurred.

Just 25 states and the District of Columbia are currently in compliance with the federal 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.

Once Gov. Jay Inslee signs the bill, the state will seek review from the federal government, which will determine whether the state is in compliance and should be granted an additional extension to allow time to implement the changes to the standard licenses and to give residents time to understand the pending changes, said Tony Sermonti, legislative director for the state Department of Licensing.

Sermonti said that officials with the Department of Homeland Security have indicated that this bill would merit compliance, and that if passed the state would like be granted an extension and not be subject to REAL ID enforcement until October 2020. At that point, those with marked standard licenses would need to show additional documentation – such as a passport, permanent resident card or military ID – to board commercial aircraft.