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Two-Tier Driver License System Buys Time For Air Travelers Facing Secure ID Deadline

Tom Banse
NW News Network
Signs like this one in Kona, Hawaii, are popping up at TSA checkpoints around the country to warn travelers about tougher ID requirements.

Washington state legislators appear to have bought extra time for travelers who use a standard driver's license to pass through airport security. The Oregon Legislature is plodding down a similar path to make identity card security upgrades demanded by the federal government.

Oregon, Washington and a bunch of other states were facing a January 2018 deadline at which time the Transportation Security Administration would no longer accept your standard driver's license to breeze through security. Now the Washington Legislature has passed and sent to the governor's desk a licensing overhaul that lawmakers believe will win local travelers a further two year reprieve. But State Representative Gael Tarleton said you'd be wise "to start paying attention now."

"Think ahead a little bit so you're not caught in a crush or in a crisis when you haven't been able to get the identification you need and suddenly you’re wondering, 'How am I going to get on that plane?'" Tarleton said during debate Thursday.

Both Washington and Oregon are settling on issuing two kinds of driver licenses: a more expensive one with the high security and verification features the feds want or a standard license which will henceforth be marked "not valid of federal identification" or words to that effect. Another option at the airport is to show a passport, a military ID or something else that complies with what is known as the federal REAL ID Act.

Late Thursday, the Washington State House voted 55-41 in favor of the two-tier licensing system. The state Senate quickly followed suit on a 36-13 vote.

Republican state Senator Doug Ericksen was among the minority who voted no on final passage because he said the changes did not go far enough.

“What this legislation allows to continue to happen in Washington state is for people in the country illegally to be able to get a Washington state license,” he said.

State Department of Licensing Legislative Director Tony Sermonti said he hopes to receive a confirmation of the expected federal compliance extension to October 2020 in a matter of weeks.

"We've requested a speedy review from the Department of Homeland Security," said Sermonti in an interview Friday.

Oregon's version of a two-tier licensing system is currently pending in the state Senate Ways and Means Committee after passing out of a policy committee on a 4-1 vote earlier this month.

Spokane, Seattle and Portland airport officials lobbied their respective legislators to move expeditiously to head off the possibility that thousands of passengers get turned away at airport security checkpoints beginning next year.

"This is really welcome," said Spokane International Airport spokesman Todd Woodard about the pleased reaction at his airport to the news of the identification fix winning final approval.

Washington's Department of Licensing plans to expand issuance of its existing "Enhanced Driver License" to applicants who want a REAL ID-compliant document. The legislation awaiting the governor's signature lowers the price of that enhanced driver license from $108 to $78 to soften the financial blow to travelers. The enhanced license is only available to U.S. citizens.

Oregon's DMV would need to create a REAL ID-compliant driver's license, which the agency said at a state Senate hearing last month could take until 2019. ?