Minnesota Senate failure hands Real ID effort big setback

Published 10:08 am Tuesday, March 7, 2017

ST. PAUL — The long-running effort to upgrade Minnesota driver’s licenses so they pass muster for domestic flights hit a massive snag Monday, as the Senate defeated a bill to comply with the federal Real ID law.

A handful of Senate Republicans who view the federal law as government overreach combined with all 33 Senate Democrats to sink the legislation on a 38-29 vote — at least for now. Democrats took issue with part of the bill that would have reiterated an existing state rule against issuing licenses to immigrants living in Minnesota illegally, calling it duplicative and unnecessary.

Lawmakers have been racing to finalize a plan to comply with Real ID  ahead of a Jan. 22, 2018 deadline for domestic flights. Minnesota is one of just five states that haven’t adopted the new driver’s licenses.

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With immigration issues looming large, Monday’s failure in the Senate signals the difficulty Minnesota’s Legislature will face to adopt a compliance plan in time.

The Minnesota House passed a Real ID bill last month that put into state law a ban on issuing driver’s licenses to immigrants living in Minnesota illegally.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he and legislative leaders would regroup to find a bill that would pass the Senate.

“We can’t get this done without both sides working together,” he said “If Democrats have no desire to pass Real ID, I cannot stop them.”

Even if the Legislature doesn’t pass a Real ID bill, Minnesota residents could use a passport or enhanced driver’s license to board domestic flights and enter military bases or other federal facilities. The blame game for its failure started before the final vote, with Republicans accusing Gov. Mark Dayton and fellow Democrats of “politicizing” meant to help prevent potential travel disruptions.

Dayton urged Democrats both privately and publicly last week to fight to expand driver’s licenses to all immigrants, deeming it a public safety issue to ensure drivers living in the state illegally are properly trained and insured. On the Senate floor, several Democrats keyed in on a section of the bill that would prohibit the state from expanding ID access while implementing Real ID.

“This bill is supposed to be about compliance. It became a bill about restricting individuals in our state,” Democratic Edina Sen. Melisa Franzen said. “We hear the federal rhetoric about our borders, about and our safety. We need to stop that here in Minnesota.”

Five Republicans also voted against the bill, including longtime critic Sen. Warren Limmer. The Maple Grove Republican said Minnesota should resist the federal government’s mandate, calling the threat of a disrupted air travel “a club to make the states submit.”

“I think this is giving way too much power to the federal government,” Limmer said.