In 2007, we published an editorial about the need for Washington state to comply with the REAL ID Act of 2005. Ten years later, the Washington Legislature has one more chance before the federal government says “Time’s up!”
Former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton, who served on the 9/11 Commission, summed up the issue when he told a congressional panel in 2004, “We’re simply saying take something that everyone accepts now and have it standardized in a way that it really identifies the people who are holding on to it.”
If lawmakers fail to act, then Washingtonians wouldn’t be able to board a commercial airliner with a standard driver’s license as identification. The first day of that nightmare would be Jan. 22.
The point of the federal law is to bolster the reliability of identification. The 9/11 terrorists were able to obtain ID rather easily and move about the country. The 9/11 Commission recommended that states be required to adopt basic ID standards to bolster security. It’s either that or a national identification card, which is an idea that’s been shot down over privacy concerns.
The feds have been very patient, issuing multiple extensions to states, as long as they’re making progress. Devising identification to comply with the law is more complicated than it might seem.
Still, most states have resolved this issue. Washington is one of five states out of compliance, and the only one that doesn’t verify citizenship before issuing a driver’s license. SB 5008 would put the state on the road to compliance, with the hope that this effort would win another extension from the feds.
The Senate passed the bill on Feb. 28 and sent it to the House.
The state has offered an enhanced license that meets federal requirements since 2008. The card is equipped with the same kind of radio frequency tag embedded in passports. Recipients must prove citizenship. However, the process is voluntary and costs more – $108 vs. $54 for a standard license. About 550,000 Washingtonians have an enhanced license, which can be used in lieu of a passport to access Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda.
The bill would drop the cost of an enhanced license to $66 to lure more purchasers. But 10 times more people have the standard license, which could mean long lines at Department of Licensing offices, thanks to legislative foot-dragging.
Under the bill, standard licenses would be stamped with a notification saying they are not federally compliant. Those with a passport could keep that version.
But it also means people who can’t prove citizenship can still get a license. This is controversial, but undocumented immigrants are a fact of life, whether in agricultural settings or in cities. Licensed or not, they will drive to and from work, or at work. It’s better to make sure they’re trained and insured.
Time is running out. The House should adopt the bill, with its two-tiered system, and the governor should sign it.
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