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Under pressure and against a deadline, Alaska Legislature acts on Real ID

May 19th | Nathaniel Herz, Alaska Dispatch News Print this article   Email this article  

JUNEAU — The Alaska House passed a bill Saturday to allow Gov. Bill Walker's administration to meet the requirements of the federal Real ID Act, as the Senate advanced its own legislation to meet a Wednesday deadline.

The vote, on House Bill 74, was 25-9, with the largely Democratic majority in favor of the bill except for Democratic Reps. Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks and Chris Tuck of Anchorage.

In committee hearings, the legislation faced bipartisan opposition from lawmakers worried about the risk of disclosure of Alaskans' personal data. But there were also powerful political interests pushing for the bill like organized labor and business groups, which want to maintain access to federal military bases during the summer construction season.

Without the legislation, Alaskans without "compliant" identification, like passports, are facing the possibility of being turned away from installations like Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage beginning June 7 — or at least needing an escort. The federal government has warned that starting in January, Alaskans might find themselves subject to extra scrutiny when they fly on commercial airlines using just a driver's license for identification.

"I sympathize with my fellow representatives from both the majority and minority who oppose this bill, and Alaskans who view the federal requirements for state ID's as federal overreach," Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Adam Wool, who carried the bill on the House floor, said in a prepared statement. "Because of serious complications for Alaskans if the state refuses to comply with the federal law, the Alaska Legislature has to work within those realities to do what is best for Alaskans."

HB 74 would give Alaskans the option of getting a "non-compliant" license, for which the Division of Motor Vehicles would keep "the minimum documents necessary" to issue it.

Gov. Bill Walker's administration, which sponsored HB 74, said in a letter to lawmakers this month that the bill needs to pass by Wednesday — the Constitutional deadline for the end of the legislative session — to allow enough time to prepare a "compliance package" to send to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In an apparent recognition of the urgency of HB 74, three House members who voted against the measure itself — Kawasaki, Tuck and Big Lake Republican Rep. Mark Neuman — voted for its "effective date clause," which would immediately repeal a law barring Walker's administration from spending money on Real ID Act compliance.

Effective date clauses require a two-thirds majority to adopt, or 27 votes in the 40-member House. Without at least two of those three extra votes, the clause in HB 74 would have failed, delaying its implementation.

The state Senate, meanwhile, advanced its own Real ID legislation at a Saturday morning committee hearing. It did so by attaching its Real ID bill, Senate Bill 34, to House Bill 16, a far less controversial measure that requires training for law enforcement agencies to help them work with people with disabilities — and also allows people with disabilities to get special driver's licenses.

The Senate's move will help speed adoption of the Real ID legislation, since it wouldn't otherwise have time under the Legislature's procedural rules to pass the House's Real ID bill by Wednesday's deadline, a spokesman for the Senate's Republican-led majority, Daniel McDonald, said in a prepared statement.

But House and Senate leaders don't appear to have resolved which chamber's Real ID bill will ultimately be sent to Walker for his signature. The House version was amended Saturday to include some extra provisions — like the creation of special driver's licenses for Hmong and Lao veterans — that would have to be approved by the Senate before taking effect.

"How it will end up is up in the air," said Anchorage Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, a member of the House majority leadership.

 

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