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Minnesota Senate rejects Real ID bill

ST. PAUL—The Minnesota Senate on Monday rejected a measure on Real ID driver's license standards. The vote sent lawmakers scrambling to revive it, or face making Minnesotans scramble to find identification that will allow them through airport security next year.

Several Republican members in the Republican-controlled chamber joined all Democrats in opposing the measure. The final vote was 29-38, which prompted cheers and applause from some of those watching from the gallery.

Minnesota has long had a turbulent relationship with the 2005 federal law known as the Real ID Act. Eight years ago, the state banned even planning to comply with the federal requirements for states' driver's licenses. While lawmakers repealed that gag rule last year, Minnesota remains one of five states that has not conformed at all to the federal rules.

The Department of Homeland Security says that as of next year, only driver's licenses that are Real-ID-compliant will be accepted at federal facilities, such as airport security. If Minnesota does not change its licenses, state residents would have to bring additional identification, like a passport or a state-issued enhanced driver's license, for federal purposes in 2018.

The House approved a version of the Real ID bill last month.

Some Republicans object to the Real ID because they say it is an example of the federal government overreaching its authority, that it could be unconstitutional, and that it could jeopardize Minnesota's liberty and privacy. Five Republican senators voted against the measure Monday.

"It gives the federal government an opportunity to create a driver's license that creates a chilling combination of personal data access and endless surveillance opportunities," said Sen. Warren Limmer, a Maple Grove Republican who has long opposed Real ID.

But many more Democrats object to the Republican-controlled Legislature's writing of Real ID bills that would continue to ban Gov. Mark Dayton's administration from creating a new class of driver's licenses for undocumented, or illegal, immigrants.

Dayton said he wants to create those new licenses and urged Senate Democrats to stick together to force the issue.

The DFL agreed. None of the Senate's 33 Democratic members voted for the measure.

"I just cannot support this as written," said Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina. She said the measure's language would "restrict" the administration's ability to create a license class for people in the country illegally. "It's not needed. It's counterproductive. It's restrictive and frankly, it's borderline offensive."

Sen. Eric Pratt, the chief sponsor of the Senate's Real ID bill, said that's simply not true.

"This is not an offensive bill. This is a bill that gets the job done," Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he was disappointed that the measure could not win the bipartisan support it needed to pass. The Republican leader from near Nisswa said he knew that some members of the Republican majority would not vote for the measure so he needed Democrats to make up the gap.

"We can't get this done without both sides working together," he said.

But Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Gazelka never asked him if there was any Democratic support for the bill.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said the measure would have won Democratic votes had the Senate measure not, in his view, moved the state "further away" from someday creating driver's licenses for those in the country without proper permission.

Both sides accused the other of politicizing the Real ID bill, dooming the fate of the measure in the Senate.

Now, Democrats and Republicans, who largely agree that the state should change its licenses to create a federally compliant option, will have to start again.

"We'll have to regroup and talk — and so will they," Gazelka said. "I'm not giving up on this issue, I think it's important that we do pass Real ID. We still have time."

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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