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'Federal Limits Apply' Will Soon Mark Standard-Issue Driver's Licenses

Washington Department of Licensing
After July 1, standard Washington state driver's licenses will be marked as seen here.

Beginning next month, driver’s licenses in Washington state will be changing. Regular licenses and ID cards will be marked with the words “federal limits apply.” Oregon is going down this path too, but not until mid-2020.

After years of resistance, Washington, Oregon and other holdout states are coming in line with stricter federal driver’s license security standards—called REAL ID for short.

Washington needs a two-tier system because policymakers previously decided the state will not verify immigration status before issuing a regular driver's license. Oregon will similarly offer a traditional license and a federally-compliant ID, but for a different reason; so drivers don't have to bring in a pile of documents to prove identity and citizenship every time they renew.

Washington Department of Licensing's Beau Perschbacher said you'll need the more expensive REAL ID-compliant license to get into some federal facilities or go through airport security by late 2020.

"Know your options,” Perschbacher said. “Start thinking about REAL ID now, before you're at that point where you can't get on a plane."

"The key point is domestic air travel," Perschbacher continued. "Where this really affects people's lives is that starting in October 2020, when the enforcement will begin for TSA, you can no longer get on a plane for a domestic flight with a standard driver's license or ID card. You will not be able to make it through that security checkpoint of TSA.”

"Some of the less common other areas where you would need a REAL ID-compliant document would be access to certain secure federal facilities like a military base, and finally, access to nuclear power plants," Perschbacher said.

A passport, military ID, or an enhanced driver's license are alternatives that meet the approval of the federal Homeland Security Department and TSA.

Standard driver's licenses can continue to be used for driving, as identification in business contexts, applying for federal benefits and at post offices, among other uses.

Regular Washington state driver's licenses issued after July 1 will have the "federal limits apply" disclaimer. Regular licenses and ID cards cost $54 and last six years. The state's current enhanced driver's license, which costs $78 for six years, complies with federal REAL ID requirements. You must be a U.S. citizen to apply for it.

Oregon DMV spokesman David House said Oregon plans to switch to a two-tier driver's license system in mid-2020 in conjunction with a planned computer upgrade. He said the state's REAL ID-compliant cards will cost extra, but how much extra has yet to be determined.

Oregon DMV offices verify the legal residency status of license applicants. Oregon voters soundly rejected the idea of issuing alternative driver's licenses and state identification cards to undocumented immigrants in 2014 when the issue was placed on the ballot via a citizen referendum.

Both Oregon and Washington state are planning extensive publicity and outreach campaigns to educate people about the most appropriate license options.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.