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Real ID bill passes first test in Minnesota House, but illegal immigrants’ access at issue

ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans -- and many of the lawmakers who represent them -- generally want the state to make its driver's licenses valid for airplane travel and other federal purposes before next year.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans - and many of the lawmakers who represent them - generally want the state to make its driver’s licenses valid for airplane travel and other federal purposes before next year.

But, like last year, the way the Legislature wants to adopt the federal Real ID license standards is causing some controversy.

A House measure to change Minnesota licenses so they will be accepted by the federal government by the 2018 deadline won a narrow 12-11 vote in a House committee Wednesday.

Some object to the federal government making requirements on state-issued licenses. Others object to the specific way the bill is written.

If the House bill becomes law, it would create two tracks for new Minnesota driver’s licenses. One would meet all the federal standards and could be used for any federal purpose. The other, called a noncompliant license, would not.

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Issuing the noncompliant license would allow Minnesotans who chose to do so to opt out of the extra security measures needed for the federally approved Real ID license.

But the bill, opponents say, would also make it impossible for undocumented immigrants to get those noncompliant driver’s licenses without further legislative action.

“Putting that language in there creates gridlock,” said Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton. In 2016, the issue of immigrant driver’s licenses was among the disputes that felled a Real ID solution.

Rep. Dennis Smith, a Maple Grove Republican and the chief sponsor of the Real ID measure, says that the bill shouldn’t be controversial. If the state is going to make a “complex immigration decision” regarding its driver’s licenses, the Legislature should be involved, he said.

In the House, the measure still needs one more committee vote before a full floor vote. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has said he wants that vote completed this month. A similar Senate bill has yet to begin working its way through the process.

Minnesota is one of just three states that have not changed their licenses to comply with the federal requirements and have never received an extension to do so, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The other two are Missouri and Washington. Four other states have expiring extensions to comply.

The Department of Homeland Security last year said that by January 2018, it would require Real ID-compliant licenses from all states. States granted extensions to change their licenses would have until 2020.

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