By Ricardo Lopez
The federal government is giving air travelers in Minnesota and a handful of other states a two-year reprieve from enforcement of a law that would have banned commercial air travelers who didn't have a new federally approved identification.
The surprise announcement Friday came as a relief to Minnesota officials who had been racing to bring the state into compliance with a new federal law requiring newer, more-stringent IDs to fly on commercial airlines.
Minnesota is among the few states that have not adopted the new IDs or been granted a waiver from the federal government. Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders had been trying to broker an agreement Friday morning on a special legislative session, in part to deal with the Real ID issue.
"The state of Minnesota will continue its efforts to comply with the federal law, in accordance with the guidance provided today," said Matt Swenson, a spokesman for the governor.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Minnesotans should be relieved that "residents can travel using their licenses for the foreseeable future without any fear of being turned away."
On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security said passengers could continue using their current IDs until Jan. 22, 2018. Some would have until Oct. 1, 2020.
After those dates, passengers without the proper driver's licenses would have to use other federally approved forms of ID, such as a passport.
As of Friday, 23 states and U.S. territories have complied with the act, while 27 states and territories have been granted an extension. Five states -- Minnesota, Illinois, New Mexico, Missouri and Washington -- and American Samoa have not complied and have not been granted an extension.
"Right now, no individual needs to adjust travel plans or rush out to get a new driver's license or a passport for domestic air travel," U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said.
Johnson told leaders of states not yet compliant to adopt new IDs. "I urge state government leaders to take immediate action to comply with the Real ID Act, to ensure the continued ability of their residents to fly unimpeded."
The Real ID Act, approved by Congress in 2005, set minimum standards for licenses in response to security concerns following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Enforcement of those requirements repeatedly has been delayed.
For a license to be compliant with the Real ID Act, the state issuing it must, for example, incorporate anti-counterfeit technology into the card, verify the applicant's identity and conduct background checks for employees involved in issuing driver's licenses.
Opponents were critical of requirements in the law that include storing images of documents that driver's license applicants present as proof of their identity, such as birth certificates. State officials say that information could be breached and could be used to track law-abiding U.S. citizens.
Some politicians in many states, like Minnesota, said the new ID cards amounted to a national identification card, collecting and storing massive amounts of private data. The growing number of data breaches at companies and government institutions only emboldened the skeptics.
By a nearly unanimous vote in 2009, the Minnesota Legislature prohibited the Department of Public Safety from taking any steps to comply.
Many privacy advocates are also critical that the U.S. government is unilaterally setting standards in an area traditionally handled by the states.
The 9/11 Commission, which formed to prevent future terrorist attacks, found that "[s]ources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists."
Real ID laws were crafted to prevent the fraudulent issuance and use of driver's licenses and identification cards, better ensuring the safety and security of the American public, Johnson said. "Given today's threat environment, this requirement is as relevant now as it was when the 9/11 Commission recommended it."
Local travel agents and corporate travel managers said the new delay is a huge relief to everyday travelers who don't have passports.
Renee Weiss, executive assistant and travel manager for Coldspring, a Minnesota granite and bronze material manufacturer, said she was "thrilled" to learn about the two-year reprieve.
"I have been following this Real ID issue really closely," she said. "Travelers have been on pins and needles," she said, noting that Coldspring employees travel only domestically. Some, she said, don't have passports.
"It's nice to be able to put travelers at ease now," she said.
Phillip Gain, an airline travel specialist with the Wayzata-based Travel Beyond, said some clients had expressed concern over whether their Minnesota identification cards would be turned away for air travel.
Once he learned that Homeland Security had issued a two-year reprieve for states, he said the news was "a relief to all of us, but especially for agencies who do a lot more domestic travel," he said.
The Associated Press and staff writer J. Patrick Coolican contributed to this report.
(c)2016 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)