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Dayton takes issue with GOP timeline for upgrading IDs

Gov. Mark Dayton and House Republicans are clashing over how quickly to handle a dispute with the federal government over driver’s licenses, complicating a key issue in a possible special session and potentially sowing further doubt about residents’ ability to board domestic flights.

The prospect of Minnesota residents being turned away from domestic flights when new federal standards for IDs at airports take effect has some state officials calling for a quick legislative fix. But a draft of legislation prepared by House Republicans and obtained by The Associated Press wouldn’t set the necessary changes in motion until at least early 2018.

State officials are awaiting final word on when the Department of Homeland Security will start requiring licenses that comply with the federal Real ID act for domestic flights. That’s the final stage of a 2005 law meant to curtail identity fraud and boost security. The House GOP’s draft legislation would start planning to make the necessary improvements to Minnesota licenses, but the final upgrades wouldn’t come for at least two years, likely clashing with federal requirements expected to come down some time in 2016.

A top GOP lawmaker defended the proposal as one of several options, and said the dates could be moved up if state officials could handle a quicker timeline. But Dayton balked.

“There is no sensible reason for the House Republicans not to remedy Minnesota’s deficiencies swiftly and completely, so that our citizens can be assured of access to commercial airlines and federal buildings,” Dayton said in a statement Tuesday.

Republican Rep. Peggy Scott said the draft bill is one of several proposals in the works ahead of a special session — though it was the sole legislation forwarded to the governor’s office. With little guess as to how long it would take the state to implement the new IDs, Scott said they wanted to give the Minnesota Department of Public ample time, but that the 2018 launch date is flexible.

“We will move forward as swiftly as the department will move forward,” she said.

As they work to determine whether a special session will happen, a group of state lawmakers is preparing to wade into the Real ID question and other issues on the docket. The first meetings are set to begin Thursday. In the Democrat-controlled Senate, Sen. Scott Dibble said he’s also working up draft legislation for Thursday’s meeting.

The first step would be to reverse a law passed in 2009 that banned the state from implementing or even planning to comply with Congress’s 2005 measure. The Legislature overwhelmingly approved the ban, citing concerns about cost and data privacy. Some GOP lawmakers have resisted changing course, viewing it as unnecessary and a federal intrusion into state affairs.

Legislation prepared by House GOP lawmakers would allow Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety to start planning the necessary upgrades, but specifies it would require another legislative signoff before the necessary changes could be made to Minnesota driver’s licenses. By requiring two reports back to the Legislature on those plans, it would set back the implementation date until at least January 2018.

The list of required fixes for driver’s licenses is relatively short. Among other changes, the state would have to begin verifying Social Security numbers and proof of residence and add a new, federally approved mark on licenses.

The federal government recently turned down Dayton’s request for an extension to comply with the higher standards, citing a lack of concrete steps toward making those improvements. The department has promised to give at least 120 days’ notice before the rules take effect, granting Minnesota and three other states time to get in line.

But with an enforcement date looming, the governor said Republicans’ legislation puts the prospect of an extension in doubt.

“We have to show some progress,” Dayton said in an interview last week. “There’s no reason to drag this out. The longer we do, the more uncertainty we continue to create for Minnesotans about their ability to fly.”

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