Senator Steve Daines, R-Mont.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., flanked by Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, discusses Montana’s noncompliance with the federal Real ID during a press conference at the attorney general’s office in Helena in January.

Thom Bridge, Independent Record

HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock has signed a bill giving Montanans the option to purchase a state driver's license or identification card that can be used to board flights and access federal facilities. 

After signing the legislation into law last week, the governor will ask the Department of Homeland Security for two extensions to comply with the 2005 Federal Real ID Act, which is intended to improve national security and prevent identity theft. 

A spokesperson for the governor's office said the request will likely be made in the next couple of weeks.

State officials refused to comply with the Real ID Act in the past, expressing concern that it jeopardizes the security of Montanans by creating a national database of documents. The state Legislature even passed legislation in 2007 prohibiting Montana from complying.

But the Department of Homeland Security has dedicated a website to rumors and misinformation about the act. It says Real ID does not grant federal access to state driver’s license data and keeps issuance and records at the state level.

The Department of Homeland Security has granted the state two extensions in the past but denied its request for a third one in November, effectively forcing the 2017 Legislature to act. Without another extension or the state's compliance, Montanans would not be allowed access to federal facilities or board flights without a passport starting in January 2018.

The Department of Homeland Security is likely to approve the extensions since the state made progress toward compliance, Sarah Garcia, administrator at the Motor Vehicle Division, said.

Garcia said the legislation was written with an expectation that the Department of Homeland Security would grant Montana two extensions. The first extension would extend through October 2017 and the second through October 2018, giving the Motor Vehicle Division time to start issuing compliant IDs in January 2019.

“It will allow Montanans to continue to board planes,” Garcia said. “It will also allow them to gain access again to military installations like Malmstrom Air Force Base and to federal facilities.”

Senate Bill 366, sponsored by Jill Cohenour, D-Helena, makes compliance optional for Montanans who already have a passport or are concerned about the state keeping copies of personal documents. People getting a new non-compliant license will pay the regular fee of $40.50. A brand new Real ID-compliant license will cost an additional $50 and an extra $25 during a renewal period.

The documentation required to get an ID will remain the same. People will have to prove their identity, which is most commonly done with a birth certificate, passport or ID from another state. To prove residency in Montana, applicants will need one document for non-compliant IDs and two for Real IDs, which could be a utility bill and a bank statement. The third is to prove authorized presence, which is typically proven with a social security card, passport or birth certificate. The Motor Vehicle Division has a full list of accepted documents on its website.

Garcia said the cost to make compliant IDs will be the same regardless of when or how long it takes, but said implementation over two years will be less stressful on the department. SB366 allows the Department of Justice to take out a loan of up to $4.6 million to pay for the initial costs.

The agency will borrow money for a public awareness campaign, program updates and new software, equipment to scan documents and additional employees. The loan will be paid back with fees Montanans pay to get a compliant ID.

Once the extension is approved, the Motor Vehicle Division will start with the public information campaign. Garcia said signage has been up informing Montanans they won’t be able to board a plane without a compliant ID or passport starting in January 2018. That wouldn’t be the case if the extensions are approved, and Garcia said people are already confused.

“We need to be able to get the info out to the general public so there’s not a concern they wouldn’t be able to board a plane,” she said.

Because REAL IDs will have different wording and indications of whether an ID is valid, the existing systems will have to be updated and new software will be purchased. The state will buy scanners to make copies and maintain records of the documents needed to get an ID.

Garcia said the actual cost can’t be calculated until she has a better idea of how many Montanans are interested in getting compliant IDs.

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