- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - The state of Minnesota may have to pay up to $5 million to upgrade driver’s licenses to satisfy new federal requirements and eliminate worries about disrupted flights, according to a report a state agency released Thursday.

The report from the Department of Public Safety notes no problems with implementing a new driver’s license by this fall that complies with the federal Real ID Act. Federal officials have said they won’t start turning away travelers without the federally-compliant cards from domestic flights until October 2020, but legislative leaders have pushed to get a new system in place this year so residents can get their upgraded IDs within the normal, four-year renewal period.

But the speedy timeline comes with a price: between $4.3 million and $5.1 million, plus ongoing annual costs of running the new program. Those costs come from altering current contracts with the vendors that make Minnesota’s cards, performing federally-required background checks and training for Driver and Vehicle Services employees and upgrades to computer systems.

With a timeline pushed out to 2018, the price could shrink to between $16,000 and $30,000 in annual operating costs, according to the report.

Gov. Mark Dayton urged lawmakers to approve and implement the new system this year to provide clarity to Minnesota residents concerned about boarding flights. But with about five weeks left in the legislative session, he wasn’t sure they would. The state could get some extra breathing room if the federal government grants Minnesota the time extension Dayton requested.

“Whether we can get it done in this session, I don’t know,” Dayton said. “The sooner we could get it all resolved, the better it would be for Minnesota.”

The cost is a side effect from Minnesota lawmakers’ long clash with the federal government over the 2005 law meant to combat terrorism and fraud. The Legislature set the study in motion earlier this year, relaxing a 2009 ban on complying with the law.

Minnesota is one of just five states that haven’t upgraded its IDs to meet the national standards. It will require new marks on cards denoting whether they’re federally acceptable and, if Minnesota chooses to keep its older ID, show those are “not for federal purposes.” Residents would need to provide more information like a Social Security Number when signing up for license.

But the fight isn’t over yet, and the department’s report says they need to hear back from lawmakers by May 15 in order to meet the October deadline. Cost aside, some lawmakers are still concerned about the privacy implications of Real ID and worry about being forced to share information with the federal government - a prospect the Department of Homeland Security has denied.

Sen. Warren Limmer led the effort to block compliance with the law in 2009. He called the ID requirement to board domestic flights “a heavy club” to comply with the law - and said it may ultimately be effective.

“I think I will throw the towel in. Real ID is coming to Minnesota, whether we like it or not.”

Lawmakers were expected to get an explanation of the study on Friday.


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