SEATTLE — At every checkpoint at Sea-Tac International Airport, there is a sign warning travelers that a Washington state driver’s license will not be enough identification to board a flight in about a year from now.
“I didn’t know that,” traveler Felicitas Fischer said Friday.
Even frequent flyers like Barry Abraham had no idea until Q13 News told him.
“By the way, nobody knows about it,” Abraham said.
The ‘Real ID’ deadline is a disaster waiting to happen for Washingtonians, he said.
“People are going to get here and not be able to get to go on vacation,” Abraham said.
Starting January 22, 2018, everyone will need an "enhanced driver’s license" or a passport to board flights under the federal Real ID Act.
Abraham said he would rather carry around his passport than go through the trouble of obtaining an enhanced driver’s license.
U.S. citizens have to provide documentation and go through an interview process to obtain an enhanced driver’s license.
“There is absolutely no way I am sitting through the misery,” Abraham said.
And consider this, only a fraction of Washington drivers have an enhanced license right now.
Despite state lawmakers' $2.4 million in funding to the Department of Licensing to increase staff to provide enhanced driver’s licenses, the state is still not equipped to handle more than 4 million Washingtonians who might need one.
“In any realm of possibilities, will we be able to get everyone through our doors prior to January of 2018?” DOL spokesperson Tony Sermonti said.
And that's why some state lawmakers say it's time to act now.
“That we have an answer that meets the federal purposes, and let’s be calm about it,” state Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said.
Clibborn's bill, supported by DOL, wants to reduce the cost to get an enhanced license.
“We will make it cheaper, but I still encourage people to look at what they already have,” Clibborn said.
A passport book, a passport card and a number of different federally recognized IDs like a military card are valid to get you on a commercial flight.
That’s, of course, if you have one.
“It’s an absolute inconvenience,” Abraham said.
So if lawmakers don’t act this year, you can expect long lines at DOL offices and derailed travel plans for flyers unaware of the new rules. If Clibborn's bill passes, then there is a chance the feds will give us an extension until 2020. The Department of Licensing has filed for an extension but that extension is dependent on the bill's passage.
What the feds want to see from Washington is that we are at least trying to comply with the law.
But the reality is lawmakers have not been able to come to an agreement on the best way to strengthen the driver’s license system in the past.
Clibborn's HB 1041 is a two-tiered approach. She wants to make it easier for people to obtain an enhanced license and regular driver's license will get a makeover. All regular licenses will be branded with a line that says it is not federally recognized. But immigrant rights groups are against branding regular licenses, saying it could lead to profiling undocumented immigrants.
Clibborn’s bill is HB 1041, and SB 5008, which is an identical measure in the state Senate, are expected to be discussed during a transportation hearing next Thursday in Olympia.