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Showdown Looming Between Northwest States, Feds Over Driver's Licenses

Washington Department of Licensing
In 2016, state-issued IDs must meet heightened security standards to board a commercial flight.

Washington, Oregon and Idaho are trying to figure out how to keep their state driver’s licenses from becoming obsolete in the eyes of the federal government.

On Friday, the Idaho House passed a bill that would ask the feds for more time to come into compliance with federal ID security standards.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has delayed full implementation of what’s known as the REAL ID Act several times. But officials now say that in 2016 they’ll start requiring IDs that meet the heightened security standards to board a commercial flight.

Idaho is in an especially precarious position. Its extension ran out last month. The Idaho National Lab no longer accepts Idaho IDs.

Idaho transportation officials don’t know exactly how far they are from compliance because of a state law that prevents them from participating in the act. The bill in the legislature would allow the state to gather information.

Oregon and Washington are in a grace period, but they’ll have to show they’ve made more progress toward meeting federal standards by October.

The Oregon DMV needs to figure out how to store copies of birth certificates and other documents that citizens use to get an ID.

In Washington, the biggest problem is that the state does not require proof of citizenship or legal residency to issue a driver’s license. The feds want that.

The REAL ID Act was aimed at increasing national security by requiring original documents showing citizenship or legal residency and mandating security protocols at locations that issue IDs. It also required that states can access each other’s data. The law raised concerns about privacy and cost up and down the political spectrum.

Idaho passed a law that barred the state transportation department from recognizing the act. The bill now in the legislature would allow the agency seek information, but not implement REAL ID.

Federal facilities will accept passports as a form of ID.

Washington offers an “enhanced” drivers license at an extra cost that does meet the standards of the federal law. It requires applicants to prove U.S. citizenship or legal resident status. Relatively few Washington drivers have chosen to get the “enhanced” version.