Washington’s system for issuing driver’s licenses needs a tuneup.
The traditional state-issued driver’s license does not meet standards of the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. The practical effect is that, beginning in 2018, standard state ID cards become unusable as the sole identification needed to board airline domestic flights and to visit military installations.
Enhanced Washington driver’s licenses and enhanced state identity cards meet federal standards, but they cost twice as much to buy.
Republican Sen. Curtis King of Yakima and Democratic Rep. Judy Clibborn of Mercer Island have agreed to sponsor legislation requested by the state Department of Licensing to avoid this coming inconvenience.
Under their bills, standard driver’s licenses would be marked as unusable for federal purposes such as taking a domestic flight or entering a military base. Those buying an “enhanced” driver’s license would remain eligible to board planes in the U.S. and enter other areas where tighter federal rules take effect. Enhanced IDs also permit land-crossings into Mexico or Canada.
The legislators’ plan is also to temporarily lower the cost of buying Washington’s optional and more expensive “enhanced” driver’s license, which includes biometric data.
Their respective proposals, Senate Bill 5008 and House Bill 1041, would provide the enhanced cards at a discounted price of $90 over the next four years — instead of $108. Standard licenses would continue to be offered for $54 every six years.
Washington is now one of a handful of states with ID cards that may not be accepted at federal agencies.
The essential difference between standard and enhanced IDs is that an enhanced license requires proof of legal status in the U.S.; the other does not.
This friction point has divided legislators. Some want proof of legal status for any ID and others want to make sure drivers are licensed and insured regardless of their immigration status.
King and Clibborn have worked across the aisle to solve thorny problems in the past. As chairs of the Senate and House transportation committees, they passed a bipartisan transportation funding plan in 2015.
DOL and the lawmakers are on the right track. The enhanced-license’s price is a barrier for many, and a discount may speed adoption of the new technology. Whether $90 is the right discounted price remains to be seen. It’s a good start for discussion.
Currently about 602,000 people have enhanced driver’s licenses or enhanced identification cards in Washington out of more than 5.6 million cards in use, DOL reports.
Regardless of what lawmakers do, DOL is making smart improvements to its processes. Soon applicants for licenses will have their photos taken at the start of the process, rather than at the end.
This ensures that a photo is on file in cases where questions are raised about a person’s identity and an application is not completed. Facial recognition software can make it easier to thwart follow-up attempts to fraudulently obtain an ID at other offices or under other names.
Some of this feels as if Big Brother is watching, and he is. But it’s a fair compromise in these uncertain times.