The Hill: Bill filed to overturn TSA driver’s license mandate

A trio of Montana lawmakers has filed a bill to overturn a mandate that would prevent airline passengers in several states from using their driver’s licenses at Transportation Security Agency (TSA) checkpoints in two years.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which overseas the TSA, said last week it would begin enforcing a post-Sept. 11 law in 2018 that directs federal agencies to only accept state-issued identifications that meet federal security standards that were enacted in 2005.  

Montana Sens. Steve Daines (R), Jon Tester (D) and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) said Tuesday that the mandate is an intrusion of their state and other’s sovereignty, although Montana’s licenses are not set to become invalid when the new rules take effect. 

“Montanans have spoken loud and clear: we don’t want REAL ID and we don’t want the federal government infringing on our personal privacy,” Daines said in a statement. “The Repeal ID Act ensures Montanans’ voices are heard and will help strike the right balance that protects our security while also safeguarding Montanans’ civil liberties.

“REAL ID violates the constitutional freedoms of law-abiding Americans and has no place in Montana,” Tester added. “I will continue my fight to protect Montanans from this costly overreach that invades privacy and forces local taxpayers to foot the bill.”

Zinke, meanwhile, said that “rolling back these Washington mandates is important to ensure Montana’s state sovereignty. 

“While maintaining security standards is important, we cannot allow the federal government to infringe on our right to privacy and strip Montana of our state sovereignty,” he added.    

Most states have either adopted the more secure driver’s licenses, known as REAL IDs, or have plans to do so later this year. But Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Washington and American Samoa have not moved to make their driver’s licenses compliant with the new federal standard. So airline passengers from those states will have to present other forms of identification at TSA checkpoints. 

“The overall goal of the REAL ID Act passed by Congress is to prevent the fraudulent issuance and use of driver’s licenses and identification cards, thereby ensuring the safety and security of the American public,” DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said last week, noting that Congress directed the TSA to make the identification change more than a decade ago and aviation safety is still a big concern.

“Given today’s threat environment, this requirement is as relevant now as it was when the 9/11 Commission recommended it,” Johnson added.  

Aviation groups have praised DHS for giving states extra time to make their identification cards compliant with the new federal standard. 

“ACI-NA and its member U.S. airports applaud the decision by DHS to provide a reasonable timeframe prior to requiring passengers to present identification from a REAL ID compliant state in order to travel on commercial aircraft,” Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) President Kevin Burke said in a statement. 

“Through its decision to provide a two-year implementation timeframe, DHS clearly recognized the importance of minimizing the potential impact on the traveling public,” Burke continued. “ACI-NA and its member airports look forward to ongoing coordination with DHS and the Transportation Security Administration to advance initiatives to educate travelers and help to ensure a reasonable implementation of REAL ID requirements.”

Tourism groups, meanwhile, have urged the TSA to work out a solution with the non-complaint states to ensure that airline passengers who have identifications from those places are not prohibited from flying, even as the praised the agency for delaying the mandate for two years, however.

“Rendering many Americans’ drivers’ licenses insufficient for travel would obviously have a chilling effect on our economy and way of life, but we’re hopeful and confident that states and the federal government will solve these issues well before sending us over that precipice,” U.S. Travel Association executive vice president of public affairs Jonathan Grella said.  

“Striking the correct balance between security and convenience is not and should not be a zero-sum policymaking game,” he added.