Washington, Oregon Closing In On Driver's License Fixes To Meet Federal Deadline

Apr 4, 2017

After years of resistance, Washington and Oregon lawmakers are finally acknowledging they have to accept stricter federal driver’s license security standards. Both states appear to be settling on having two kinds of licenses.

Beginning as soon as January 22, 2018, the Transportation Security Administration will require a more secure driver's license. To breeze through airport security, you'll need either a federal ID such as a passport or a military ID or a state-issued enhanced driver’s license or certain less common secure IDs. The same standards are being phased in -- in some cases sooner -- to visit military bases and federal courthouses.

Republican Washington state Sen. Randi Becker feels urgency to get a fix that complies with the federal REAL ID Act.

"People in the state Washington are going to be upset when they have to go present a passport to get on an airplane,” Becker said. “I think it's something we really have to make sure is done."

If you don’t need to go through federal checkpoints, you could opt for the existing Washington or Oregon licenses, which would be cheaper but will likely be marked "not valid for federal identification" or similar wording.

Since 2008, Washington state has issued an "Enhanced Driver License" to applicants who provide extra documentation of identity and U.S. citizenship and pay a $108 fee. These licenses exceed REAL ID requirements and would permit unhindered domestic air travel. 


Oregon's DMV would need to create a REAL ID-compliant driver's license, which the agency said at a state Senate hearing last month could take until 2019. 


Spokane, Seattle and Portland airport officials lobbied their respective legislators to move expeditiously to head off the possibility that thousands of passengers get turned away at airport security checkpoints beginning next year.


Oregonians may get an extension from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but people with Washington state licenses likely won't. That's chiefly because Washington doesn't make applicants for a standard driver's license prove they have legal immigration status. State policy makers previously decided they wanted as many people as possible on the road to be licensed to drive. 


The American Civil Liberties Union, Northwest Immigrant Rights Projects and several lawyers groups voiced objections at the Washington Legislature to the proposed two-tier licensing system. The state chapter of the ACLU characterized the marked, lower-tier license as a "scarlet letter," which could invite discrimination against non-citizens. 


"This marked license would likely be used by landlords and tenant screening companies to identify undocumented immigrants and other non-citizens," Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance Policy Director Michele Thomas added in a statement. 


An amendment adopted Tuesday by the Washington state House Transportation Committee to its REAL ID compliance legislation said the marked license may not be used "to infer an individual's citizenship or immigration status for any purpose." 


In Oregon, the local ACLU chapter called on state officials to increase privacy protections on the databases that would be used to store and share details and documents provided by driver's license and identicard applicants. 


Oregon DMV offices verify the legal residency status of license applicants. 


Oregon voters soundly rejected the idea of issuing alternative driver's licenses and state identification cards to undocumented immigrants in 2014 when the issue was placed on the ballot via a citizen referendum. 


All three Northwestern states -- and more than a dozen others -- initially rebelled against the federally-mandated REAL ID Act, approved by Congress in 2005. But over the past decade, the states have of their own volition modernized licensing procedures to prevent fraud and better verify identities. 


In the early going, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gave repeated compliance extensions to recalcitrant states. But now the agency writes on its website, "The time has come to complete implementation of the law." 


"REAL ID is a coordinated effort by the states and the Federal Government to improve the reliability and accuracy of state-issued identification documents, which should inhibit terrorists’ ability to evade detection by using fraudulent identification," the online explanation went on to say.