Montana caught a break last week regarding the state’s implementation of the 2005 Real ID Act. The Department of Homeland Security granted the state a year-long extension to comply with the federal law, meaning residents can still board domestic flights with a Montana driver’s license until early 2019. But with 12 years now separating us from the law’s initial passage, the obvious question is: What’s the holdup?
For starters, compliance was illegal under state law until this spring. The Montana Legislature passed a law in 2005 barring the state from enacting Real ID, declaring it an expensive and inconvenient violation of the 10th Amendment. Only with the passage this year of Senate Bill 366, sponsored by Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, was that restriction lifted and a path toward compliance laid out.
Cohenour’s bill enabled the Montana Motor Vehicle Division to secure a $4.6 million loan for Real ID implementation. MVD Administrator Sarah Garcia says the high cost stems largely from training and staffing needs at exam stations statewide, as she anticipates a rush on the IDs once they’re available. The division will also need to supply those stations with scanners, she adds, to upload “authorized presence documents” like birth certificates. MVD will pay back the loan by charging a $50 fee for those seeking a Real ID card outside their license renewal period, or $25 for those renewing their licenses (in addition to the standard $10 new-card fee or the $40.50 renewal fee). SB 366 allows Montanans to opt out of Real ID, but those who do will need a passport for commercial air travel once the extension expires.
According to Garcia, MVD has tapped public relations and marketing classes at Montana State University-Billings to develop “talking points” to inform the public when they need to get a Real ID, and what to do if they want to opt out. Garcia says Montana isn’t “any worse off” than the 24 other states that are not yet compliant.
“The federal government’s drop-dead date that they’ve given us is Oct. 1 of 2020,” she says. “So I feel like we’re still well within the window.”
The fears that perpetuated the Real ID controversy were still on display during the Legislature’s deliberations on SB 366 this spring. Lawmakers raised questions about the collection of biometric data and whether the state would be sharing more information about license holders with the NSA. One legislator on the House Judiciary Committee even referred to the Real ID card as a “national ID,” a common phrase among critics, which Cohenour was quick to point out is incorrect.
Under the new extension, which includes a 90-day grace period, Montanans will have until Jan. 22, 2019 to get Real ID-compliant licenses. Garcia says the state intends to file for another extension, but adds that her department is currently operating with the 2019 deadline in mind.