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Driver's license changes advance Real ID bill in MN Senate

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate resuscitated the state's effort to change its driver's licenses so the federal government will accept them at security checkpoints next year.

After rejecting the changes to comply with Real ID standards earlier this month, Republicans in the Senate revived the measure Thursday, March 30, by taking out parts of the bill that Democrats opposed. Although Republicans control the Senate, they hold the majority by only one vote. Three weeks ago, five Republicans joined all Democrats in opposing the Real ID measure.

To win some of those Democratic votes Thursday, the Senate removed the language that many DFLers felt would have moved the state further away from ever being able to issue driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Without that language, the bill passed the Senate on a 60-7 vote.

But while the changes brought along enough Democrats to help the bill pass, they did not bring unity among all Republicans.

Sen. Warren Limmer, long an opponent of Real ID, said the federal government's requirements on licenses is its attempt to "club the state into submission," which he says is a risky proposition.

"When it comes to data privacy I don't trust the government and I don't trust corporations," the Maple Grove Republican said. He voted no.

But relief for those worried about using their driver's licenses at airport checkpoints next year is still not assured.

When the Minnesota House passed its Real ID measure in February, it included very strict language that would affirmatively bar undocumented immigrants from getting legal driver's licenses.

For any Real ID bill to reach Gov. Mark Dayton, the House and Senate will have to agree on a plan that can win a majority of votes in the Legislature. What can pass the Senate may fumble among House Republicans and what could win approval in the House could stumble in the Senate.

That issue, however, is a problem for another day.

The federal government said that next year it will stop accepting driver's licenses from states that have not agreed to the extra rules and security checks required by the 2005 Real ID law. Minnesota is one of four states that has not yet made any moves toward adopting the federal requirements.

If Minnesota does nothing, people may need to bring extra identification, like a passport, to get through federal security checkpoints at airports, military bases and other federal facilities in 2018.

Dayton, a Democrat, has said he would sign a Real ID bill if the Legislature passes one.