MISSOULA, Mont. - Montana lawmakers debated how to make Montana licenses and ID cards legal Tuesday.
As it stands now Montana ID cards are not compliant under federal ID standards outlined in the Real ID Act of 2005. For years many Montana lawmakers have opposed the stipulations of the Real ID Act over privacy concerns. The act would require residents to enter personal information into a national database.
As of January 2017 Montanans are barred from entering federal facilities or military installations across the country without a Real ID-compliant ID card like a passport. In January 2018 Montanans will not be able to get through airport security with just their state-issued ID.
The 2007 Montana Legislature passed a law saying the state would not comply with regulations of the Real ID Act. Lawmakers in the 2017 legislative session are trying to reverse that decision and move forward with the implementation process.
For more information on the Real ID Act click here.
Three legislative bills are in the works this session.
Senate Bill 377 was introduced by Steve Fitzpatrick (R-Great Falls). The bill gives Attorney General Tim Fox's office directives to implement a plan to make Montana IDs compliant with the Real ID Laws by July 2019. The bill also asks the Attorney General's Office to outline the cost of implementation and present their entire plan to the Montana Legislature in 2019. For example, the plan could outline how the state will go about hiring and paying staff to manufacture, process and sell compliant ID cards. You can read the entire bill here.
Senate Bill 366 was introduced by Jill Cohenour (D-East Helena). It asks the Attorney General's office to manufacturer Montana IDs compliant under the Real ID Act but would give Montanans the option of purchasing one. The process would be voluntary. A person may choose to apply for either a standard driver's license or identification card, or for a REAL ID-compliant driver's license or REAL ID-compliant identification card.
Cohenour's fiscal note on SB 366 estimates implementation would cost about $2.5 million the first year and $2 million the years following.
Some residents say the cost is worth it to bring Montana IDs up to the national standard.
"For my Montana driver’s license not to be valid to get on a plane and fly out, that's crazy," exclaimed Missoula resident John Contos.
"I don't think we have any choice; I just think we need to get compliant and get it behind us,” said Polson resident Rod McRae.
Others see it differently.
"I can see where people would have privacy concerns," said Missoula resident John Horton.
"Whatever it is, we need to get a driver’s license where we can go to other places without a problem," Contos added.
Attorney General spokesman Eric Sell says they are prepared to provide the legislature any policy information they may need in their decision making. He says their office is not supporting or opposing any specific bills. However, he added Fox still has an opinion on the Real ID Act.
"As it stands how, the Attorney General and Department of Justice still thinks that the best solution is for something to change at the federal level," Sell said. "Whether it be to repeal the Real ID Act, or the Department of Homeland Security grant an exemption or a lengthy extension."
Sell says Fox supports Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines’ efforts to repeal the Real ID Act altogether.
Senate Bill 370 was also introduced by Fitzpatrick. The bill would have Montana issue enhanced driver's licenses. The DHS says they are a more secure form of ID. They allow people to enter Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean by land or sea, but would not work on airline travel. Sell says enhanced driver's licenses are compliant under the Real ID Act.
Five other states use enhanced driver’s licenses, including Washington state.
SB 370 supporters say an enhanced driver's license is a viable alternative to passports, but Sell says the AG's office still has concerns.
"Enhanced driver's licenses go above and beyond what is required under Real ID, would cost more money to implement and would also provide more information sharing with the federal government," Sell said.
If all bills fail, Montanans could be forced to get passports for airline travel. Passports are a compliant form of identification under the Real ID Act. You can find out what they cost here.
All three bills were heard in Senate committees Tuesday. They will have to pass through the committees before making it to the Senate floor for a vote.