ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Legislature approved a bill Wednesday that would upgrade state driver’s licenses to meet new federal standards required for domestic flights, advancing critical legislation that would avert potential travel disruptions after years of debate.
Lawmakers have struggled for years to pass a plan complying with the federal Real ID Act, first over concerns about federal overreach and a separate debate about granting driver’s licenses to immigrants living in Minnesota illegally. A 2018 deadline for upgraded IDs to board flights sparked alarm about travel disruptions.
But legislators reached a deal this week to move the issue surrounding immigrant driver’s licenses to a separate bill. The House overwhelmingly approved the legislation on Wednesday, and the Senate followed suit Wednesday evening. Gov. Mark Dayton has indicated he’ll sign it.
It makes Minnesota among the last states to take steps to comply with the 2005 law meant to combat terrorism and identity fraud. Its passage would allow the state to get an extension to continue using older IDs until 2020. State officials expect to start issuing the new, federally-compliant IDs sometime next year.
“I’m disappointed it took this long, but I’m glad it’s here,” said Rep. Leon Lillie, a St. Paul Democrat.
But Minnesota wasn’t alone among the holdouts. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill earlier this week to comply with the law, while similar bills are awaiting governors’ signatures in Montana and Missouri.
If passed and signed in Minnesota, an extension from the federal government would also allow residents to immediately gain entry into military buildings and other federal facilities with a driver’s license.
“They will have access to those buildings now even though Real IDs won’t be issued for about another year,” said Republican Rep. Dennis Smith, who authored the bill in the House.
The measure still would allow residents to opt for the older, non-compliant ID. Passports and other documentation can be used to board aircrafts.
The agreement shifted a dispute over licenses for immigrants living in the state illegally. Republicans wanted language in the bill specifically prohibiting the governor from expanding ID access to that population, but Democrats had united to block it.
Republicans are still working to get that provision into a final budget bill.