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Washingtonians Face Choices Soon On What Kind Of State ID To Get

Signs like this one in Kona, Hawaii, are popping up at TSA checkpoints around the country to warn travelers about tougher ID requirements.
Tom Banse
NW News Network
Signs like this one in Kona, Hawaii, are popping up at TSA checkpoints around the country to warn travelers about tougher ID requirements.

The majority of Washingtonians with a regular driver's license will have an interesting choice to make the next time they renew—a choice possibly coming to Oregon too. Continue with the same old license they have grown accustomed to or apply for a so-called "enhanced driver license."

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law on Tuesday a measure to bring the state into compliance with federal ID security standards. 

"This will help to ease problems at border crossings, airports, federal courthouses and military bases where REAL ID compliant documents are required," Inslee said in remarks at a bill signing ceremony.

He added that the measure ensures the "convenience and security of our citizens.” 

The legislative fixes enshrine a two-tier driver’s licensing system. Beginning next summer, the standard license and state ID card will be marked as not valid for federal purposes. The more expensive enhanced driver license requires proof of U.S. citizenship. This will pass muster at airport security checkpoints, military gatehouses and U.S. courthouses. 

Tony Sermonti is the legislative director the Washington State Department of Licensing.

"People have a couple years now to get a federally acceptable document,” he said. “First and foremost, there doesn't need to be a rush. That is one of the things the bill provided us, is time."

It could be 2020 before the standard license won’t be good enough to get past airport security for a domestic flight.

Sermonti anticipates a public outreach and education campaign will begin soon to inform folks about their options. 

"The enhanced driver's license is not the only acceptable document you can get," Semonti said. "Many people have passports or passport cards, military IDs. Even transportation worker identification cards that are issued by the government are acceptable documents for travel. So there are a lot of options out there."

A standard Washington driver's license or ID card generally costs $54 and is valid for six years. The EDL currently costs $108 for six years, but the Washington Legislature directed that the fee be lowered to $78 beginning in late July.

Oregon legislators are contemplating a similar two-tier driver's licensing system to bring their state's identification cards into compliance with what is formally known as the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. The Oregon measure received a flurry of committee attention last month, but debate has since stalled or gone underground.

For many years after Congress passed the REAL ID Act, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Montana and other states resisted complying unless the federal government provided funding for the mandated security and identity verification upgrades. But faced with the possibility that their residents would be turned away at airport security checkpoints as soon as next January, all of the Northwest states are falling into line. 

Under the legislation signed by Washington's governor, the state will continue to let people who immigrated illegally or lack a social security number take the driving test and get a standard license. That policy choice to ignore immigration status is one of the main reasons the federal government will not recognize standard Washington state ID cards in the future.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.