OLYMPIA – Washington moved a step closer to having driver’s licenses that meet federal standards, but not before national debate over immigration policy flared on the Senate floor.
The bill would mark the standard driver’s license as not meeting rules that make it valid for boarding an airplane starting next year but would lower the cost of an enhanced license, which can be used for that. It passed the Senate and was sent to the House on a 45-4 vote.
But several senators who voted for the bill said they did so reluctantly, either because it was a sign the state was too lax on dealing with undocumented immigrants, or signaling they weren’t welcome in Washington.
“We’re grouping together into one bundle people who have come here legally with those who came here illegally. That’s not fair,” Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said. “If you’re here illegally, you still get a license.”
Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, said he objects to the federal government telling the state how it has to structure its laws for driver’s licenses and state identification. Denying people who don’t have documents that show they are legally in the United States won’t keep them from driving to work, he said, it will just make them impossible to insure and cost other drivers money if they’re in an accident.
“I don’t believe it is our job in Washington state to police federal immigration laws,” Liias said.
Both Liias and Ericksen voted for the bill. Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, said she wouldn’t. The two-license system “opens up the possibility for harassment” against those with a standard license and police didn’t have clarity on how to deal with them.
“Washington stands up for being a welcoming state,” Saldaña said.
The state has tried unsuccessfully to change its licenses ever since the federal government passed the Real ID law in 2005. Under the latest proposal, a statement will be added to a standard license that it is not valid for federal identification, such as entering a military facility or some nuclear installations, and starting next Jan. 22, boarding a commercial airplane. The enhanced license contains a special radio frequency identification tag similar to those used in passports.
The enhanced driver’s license currently costs $108 for six years, compared to $54 for a standard license. Opponents of changing the current system argued that people who want federally recognized identification could save money by buying a passport, which costs $110 but is good for 10 years.
The bill had proposed dropping the fee temporarily to $90, but before Tuesday’s vote the Senate amended it to make those licenses $66, and not raise the price until the Legislature approves.
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