- Associated Press - Thursday, January 19, 2017

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Last month, signs started popping up at airports nationwide warning travelers that unless their driver’s licenses are from states already in compliance with federal identification requirements or states with a limited extension, they’ll need additional documentation to board domestic flights starting in January 2018.

With that looming deadline, lawmakers in Washington state are trying to bring the state into compliance with the REAL ID Act, a 2005 federal law that requires state driver’s licenses and ID cards to have security enhancements and be issued to people who can prove they’re legally in the United States.

Washington is the only state in the country that does not require proof of legal presence in the U.S. to get a standard state driver’s license or ID. However, the state already offers, but does not mandate, enhanced driver’s licenses and IDs that require proof of U.S. citizenship and are valid under the federal law.

The state’s Senate and House transportation committees held separate hearings Thursday on bills that have been introduced seeking to bring the state into compliance with REAL ID.

Just 25 states and the District of Columbia are currently in compliance with the law, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s website.

Washington, Minnesota and Missouri are the only three states that are not compliant with the law and don’t have an extension from the federal government, meaning millions of residents who currently have standard driver’s licenses now need additional ID for access to some military bases and federal facilities. They’ll eventually be required to show additional documentation for air travel unless the Legislature acts.

Two other states - Maine and Montana - are also not in compliance and have a grace period that will make them subject to enforcement starting on Jan. 30. On Thursday, Pennsylvania and Kentucky - which had originally been subject to the Jan. 30 compliance date - were given a limited extension through June 6, joining a handful of other states with limited extensions until that date. Eighteen other states and territories have extensions until Oct. 10.

In addition to the measures introduced in Washington, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, and South Carolina all have introduced bills related to REAL ID compliance this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The proposed bills in Washington state would create a two-tiered licensing system that would keep the current enhanced license and would create a standard state license that would be marked indicating it is not valid for federal purposes.

“We have worked diligently for many years on this piece of legislation, trying to find something that is simple and straightforward and addresses the challenge that the feds have put before us,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima.

Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs called REAL ID “an unfunded mandate on our state.”

“This is not the easiest bill to do, but unfortunately it’s one we have to face,” he said.

Elisabeth Smith, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, told the Senate panel that the measure was unnecessary.

She said that because the state already has the enhanced licenses that are accepted under federal law there’s no reason for the state to mark the standard licenses “other than the optics of compliance with REAL ID.”

Under the latest schedule released by the federal government, residents of states that are not in compliance and do not have an extension will need additional identification to board commercial flights starting on Jan. 22, 2018. Residents of other states that currently have extensions will have until Oct. 21, 2020.

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