Politics & Government

Enhanced license awaits fed's OK

Washington lawmakers Wednesday approved a $40 enhanced driver's license aimed at easing border crossings into British Columbia, possibly in lieu of a passport.

Acting swiftly at the request of Gov. Chris Gregoire, the state Senate voted 43-3 to authorize the new license, which will be loaded with proof of citizenship and other information that can be easily scanned at the border. The governor expects to get approval Friday from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for a pilot project to test the new approach at the state-provincial border.

State officials said that beginning in January, the enhanced licenses could provide an alternative to the more expensive $97 passport expected to be required for land and sea travel between the U.S. and Canada in June 2009.

Regular driver's licenses also are being accepted at the border until June 2009.

New license

The optional new license will incorporate proof of citizenship and Washington residency and allow search of federal databanks, including criminal records.

The licenses would cost $40 and would have to be picked up in person at a driver's license office, starting in January. The state House approved them earlier.

Michael Chertoff, secretary of homeland security, and Gregoire are expected to sign papers in Seattle on Friday to allow the state to use the enhanced licenses as the country's first pilot project to test a cheaper, secure alternative to passports, Gregoire spokeswoman Holly Armstrong said after the Senate vote.

"The state of Washington has put forward a very innovative proposal and Homeland Security has been excited about this from the get-go," said Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke. "We appreciate the balancing of seccurity with efficiency and we think this proposal has a lot of merit."

He said other states may follow Washington's lead.

"The governor proposed the pilot project because with all the talk of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, there was a concern about the impact on tourism and economic ties, particularly with the (2010 Winter) Olympics coming up" in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., Armstrong said.

"She understands the need to look at security issues and to address those, but she and Premier (Gordon) Campbell believe there is a better way to do this, an alternative to the burdensome and expensive requirement for passports."

For a family of four, the passport requirement would get very expensive and it would certainly curtail spur-of-the-moment border crossings, Armstrong said. HB1289

Authorizes the issuance of enhanced drivers' licenses and identicards to facilitate crossing the Canadian border.

House Bill 1289

Would authorize the issuance of enhanced drivers' licenses and identity cards to facilitate crossing the Canadian border.