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Monday, May 25, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New driver’s license won’t flag undocumented residents, sponsor says

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 19, 2017

OLYMPIA – Washington’s standard driver’s license will clearly say it can’t be used to board an airplane but won’t “put a target” on undocumented residents if a new proposal brings the state in line with federal law, supporters of the bill said.

Nearly identical proposals in the House and Senate, which each got a hearing Thursday afternoon, would add writing on a standard license that it is not valid federal identification. That means it won’t let the holder onto an airplane after Jan. 22, 2018. It’s already not valid for entering a military base or other federally restricted places like a nuclear facility.

Federal law requires some sort of marking because Washington doesn’t require an applicant to show proof of legal residence to get that standard license.

Washington does require proof of citizenship to get an enhanced driver’s license, which has certain features that can be scanned or checked at airports or other places with restricted access.

Critics of the two bills, designed to bring the state into compliance with the federal REAL ID law that was passed in 2005, said changes to the standard license could put a “bull’s eye” on holders, identifying them as not being citizens. Undocumented immigrants won’t get driver’s licenses, which means they won’t be able to get auto insurance.

Elizabeth Smith of the American Civil Liberties Union said the notification could turn the cheaper standard license “ into a scarlet letter.”

But an official from the state Department of Licensing said many people would have no reason to spend the extra money for an enhanced license because they already have a passport or other valid federal identification they could use.

An enhanced driver’s license would cost $90 for six years under the proposals. A passport costs $110, but is good for 10 years.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, said the theory that undocumented immigrants would be targeted for unfavorable treatment when stopped by police because they hold standard licenses was “a big leap.”

“There will be millions of these licenses through the state of Washington that will be used by citizens,” he said.

King said the Senate Transportation Committee could be asked to vote on the bill as early as next Monday.

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