Reluctant to comply with REAL ID, Alaska faces possible barrier to flying

Alaska rolled out updated driver’s license and ID cards in June 2014. They are not REAL ID-compliant. (Courtesy Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles)

Alaska law bars the state government from spending money to comply with the federal REAL ID Act. Starting next January, the federal government will require Alaska residents boarding commercial flights to have ID cards that meet REAL ID standards.

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Under House Bill 74 and Senate Bill 34, Alaska residents would be able to choose one of two driver’s licenses: one that complies with REAL ID and one that doesn’t. The bills also would allow the state to spend money to comply with REAL ID and to charge residents $5 to offset the costs.

The information on REAL ID-compliant licenses would be in a new database that’s shared with other states.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, sponsored the 2008 law that blocks Alaska from spending money on REAL ID. He said the federal government should bear the costs, and shouldn’t punish Alaskans by denying them access to military bases and flights.

“I think that’s offensive. I think it’s heavy-handed. I think it will cost the state millions to implement,” Wielechowski said. “And I hope our federal delegation can – and the Trump administration will – put an end to that practice.”

26 states offer driver’s licenses that comply with the federal law. Alaska is one of 19 that received extensions as a result of legislation that would put it in compliance. Five states aren’t complying. On Jan. 30, some federal facilities began denying access to those states’ residents who don’t have passports or other IDs that comply with REAL ID.

Alaskans who only have driver’s licenses that don’t comply with REAL ID won’t be able to enter military bases and other federal buildings on June 7. They won’t be able to board commercial flights next January, unless the state passes the bill. If it does pass the bill, Alaskans will have until October 2020 to get REAL ID-compliant cards.

Congress passed REAL ID in 2005. It included provisions aimed at making it more difficult for people in the country illegally to get driver’s licenses, and to make boarding aircraft more secure after the Sept. 11 attacks.

At a House State Affairs Committee meeting on Tuesday, representatives from both parties expressed opposition to the federal law. Anchorage Republican Gabrielle LeDoux said the federal law could actually make identity fraud more likely.

“To the extent that it is there to prevent identity fraud, I would think that having everybody’s information in a database is more likely to cause identity fraud,” LeDoux said.

State officials noted that personal information on the state’s current driver’s licenses already is available to officials in other states. No more information would be available through the REAL ID licenses.

LeDoux said the federal government has put the state in a difficult position. She compared the database to those with credit card information that have been hacked.

“It makes me uncomfortable. And yet at the same time, you got to be able to fly,” she said.

Gov. Bill Walker proposed the bills. State Department of Administration Deputy Commissioner Leslie Ridle said the bills are intended to give Alaskans options. She said many people who aren’t paying attention to the issue may be affected.

“They’re going to want to jump on a plane for a vacation and not have a passport or any of these other types of IDs that will allow them to fly,” Ridle said.

The committee didn’t take action on the bill. The Senate bill was referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee.