Three weeks ago, Minnesota state licensing officials raised an alarm with legislators that the state and its residents were way behind in meeting federal requirements for REAL ID driver’s licenses and identification cards.
Huge backlogs, delays in processing and an inability to impart a sense of urgency among state residents about applying for the more secure licenses made a nightmare scenario more likely, officials said — that tens of thousands of Minnesotans will not be allowed to board commercial air flights starting Oct. 1.
Wednesday the Legislature started doing something to help. Two bills, Senate File 3901 and its companion in the House, House File 3964, will loosen some outdated requirements for the types of documents needed to prove identity and residency.
Coming next from the Legislature could be money for additional staffing to ease the backlog at state license offices, something Gov. Tim Walz termed “a surge type of ask.”
The bills come in response to a request by the state Driver and Vehicle Services Division that the job of processing REAL ID applications would be made somewhat easier if staff didn’t have to reject documents for technical reasons. One example: A utility bill is currently invalid to prove residency if the addressees have different last names. That meant married couples with different names or roommates who share the bill couldn’t use the document.
Another current requirement is that a pay stub from an employer has to have the employer’s phone number, something many paystubs — including most of those issued to state workers — don’t have. Other oddities abound: A credit card statement is valid for establishing residency but a debit card statement is not; a property deed or title is good — but only if it was issued within the previous 12 months; and an insurance policy is also valid — but not a proof of insurance card issued by an insurer.
The two bills would change all those requirements — and others.
“What we’re trying to do with this bill is take the advice of the Department of Public Safety and hopefully make their job a little bit better and also help our constituents when they go to get that REAL ID,” said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, who is sponsoring the Senate bill.
Newman said he would like the bill to be on Walz’s desk by the end of March. It would take effect no later than four weeks after it is signed.
“What you are doing here will have a dramatic effect at the registrars and in the licensing offices,” said Tim Lynaugh, assistant commissioner at the department of public safety.
REAL ID is a requirement that emerged from the 9-11 Commission convened to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and make recommendations about future policies. One of those recommendations was to create systems that would make it more difficult for potential terrorists to get photo identification fraudulently. The rules pressured states to require that residents seeking licenses and ID cards provide more rigorous proof of their identity and their residency.
While the deadline for compliance was moved back several times, the federal government has now determined that Oct. 1, 2020, is final. Residents without REAL ID, enhanced driver’s licenses or passports will not be allowed to board commercial airliners or enter most federal facilities, such as military bases.
Minnesota was one of a handful of states that resisted the requirement, largely over concerns about privacy. Finally, in 2017, Minnesota adopted REAL ID, but as the last state to comply, it was behind other states in complying with the standards.
There are still concerns among state legislators. On Wednesday, Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, wanted assurances that the DVS staff members who handle identity documents have been screened for criminal records. “What does DVS have in place to assure that some of this stuff couldn’t be pillfered or absconded with and we have some fake REAL IDs out there with the actual documents,” Howe asked.
Lynaugh said that any worker who handles documents has undergone a criminal background check and will continue to be, even with efforts to beef up staff to meet the current rush.
Also Wednesday, Walz helped open a REAL ID office at MSP. The office, which is past the security checkpoints in Terminal 1, is a partnership between the state and the Metropolitan Airports Commission and can be used by ticketed passengers while waiting for flights. “We need to be very candid with people on this,” Walz said. “We need to get the message out to Minnesotans. They need to get this done.”
As of Wednesday, the state estimates that 366,000 residents have REAL ID licenses or ID cards and 276,000 have enhanced licenses that are REAL ID compliant. But that is less than 13 percent of the state’s license and ID card holders. The state also estimates that about 37 percent have passports, which can be used for access to airplanes and federal facilities.
Residents who have no travel plans or don’t need to visit federal facilities don’t need REAL ID and can continue to use licenses issued before these requirements.
Because of the time it takes to process new licenses, the state DVS is currently issuing licenses to applicants who completed the applications on Jan. 3. Carried forward, that means a resident would have to apply by June 15 to be assured of receiving their new license by Oct. 1.
To apply, residents must show up at licensing offices, either those that are state run or private registrars, and must have all documentation ready to be scanned. Top DVS officials report that many applicants wait in line only to learn that they don’t have the required documents to show identity, date of birth, legal presence in the U.S., a Social Security number and proof of residency in Minnesota.
“To see people line up is a frustration,” Lynaugh said. “What becomes even more frustrating is when they get up to that counter and the documentation they brought isn’t going to work. It may speed the line a little bit but it will definitely eliminate the second and third and fourth time back, which is unfortunately common.”
The department is urging residents to use the online pre-application to speed up the process and assure that the documents they are using are valid.