By Brian Heaton

A new type of driver’s license may make travel to and from Canada a lot easier for North Dakotans.

North Dakota lawmakers have introduced legislation for “enhanced drivers' licenses” to be issued in the state. If the measure passes, residents would have the option of getting the new identification for a fee of $45, enabling them to leave their passports at home when visiting Canada.

Enhanced drivers' licenses provide proof of both identity and U.S. citizenship. Each license contains radio frequency identification (RFID) that connects with a secure system to verify a person’s biographic and biometric data. The security features are approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“I believe as a border state, it is crucial for social and economic reasons to have easy access to our neighbor country, Canada,” said Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, one of the sponsors of the bill. “I also believe terrorists have disrupted our ease of travel and with technology, we can regain what we have lost. It is important that we not let illegal behavior control our environment.”

SB 2148 was also co-sponsored by Sens. Brad Bekkedahl, R-Williston; and Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks; along with Reps. Marie Strinden, D-Grand Forks; Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo; and Dick Anderson, R-Willow City.

If the proposal becomes law, North Dakota would be on a short list of states offering enhanced drivers' licenses. Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington are some of the others.

Striden told the Grand Forks Herald that having enhanced licenses is “common sense,” and enables people to get rid of the extra steps necessary to move between the U.S. and Canada.

International commerce is also a likely goal of the legislation. The Herald reported that while Canadian visitors have been a “major driver” of the Grand Folks economy, the number of U.S. residents entering Canada by car has decreased from 15.3 million in 2010 to 14.1 million in 2013, according to Statistics Canada.

“I think there are great options in tourism and retail between our two countries through North Dakota,” Mathern said. “Tourism is becoming a No. 1 industry. The more we visit Canada, the more their citizens visit us.

SB 2148 was heard and held in a Senate Transportation Committee hearing on Friday, Jan. 23. In an email to Government Technology on Monday, Mathern noted that while there wasn’t any opposition to the bill, there were concerns over the cost of implementing enhanced licenses.

“I thought a $45 fee could cover the card work costs and be attractive to citizens,” Mathern said. “I realize it does not cover all of the infrastructure costs, which will be the challenge in getting the bill passed.”