MISSOULA — Montana deserves an emergency waiver from federal identity card rules before a Jan. 30 deadline arrives, according to the state's U.S. senators, Jon Tester and Steve Daines.
The Democrat and Republican senators sent a joint letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Wednesday asking for relief from the REAL ID Act, which sets standards for identification suitable to entering secure federal facilities.
Without a waiver, Montanans would no longer be able to use their state-issued driver’s licenses to get into places like Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, or the Russell Smith Courthouse in Missoula. Next year, they would not be able to board federally regulated commercial aircraft with a Montana ID. They would need something issued under the federal standards, such as a U.S. passport.
“By working together, we know we can find a solution that respects the privacy rights of law-abiding Montanans, while also keeping our state and nation safe from bad actors who want to do us harm,” the senators wrote to Kelly. “We continue to oppose the REAL ID law and we still feel strongly that the civil liberties and privacy of law-abiding Americans could easily be violated as a result of this law.
“The passport application fee is $110 for someone over the age of 16 and $80 for a child,” they added. “Moreover, it can take up to six weeks to receive a passport after completing an application. This extended wait can be a significant obstacle to families in cases of emergencies that require air travel.”
Tester and Daines have co-sponsored a “Repeal REAL ID Act” bill that would dissolve federal mandates on driver’s license design. Montana’s state government has passed laws opposing participation in the REAL ID rules and ordering state agencies not to comply.
In their letter, the senators noted that REAL ID gives the federal government “access to the personally identifiable information of any licensed driver in any state across the United States” – a situation ripe for abuse and cybersecurity risk.
Meanwhile, they noted, Montana has changed its ID cards in ways that comply with the federal standards “without infringing on civil liberties, sacrificing privacy or subjecting our citizens to unnecessary cybersecurity risks."