The standard-issue driver’s license carried by 5 million Washingtonians will — for now — still be accepted at the airport, despite a federal warning that a December announcement could require more proof of identity for passengers on commercial air flights.
New restrictions, however, are limiting access to other federal facilities, such as nuclear plants, because of Washington’s noncompliance with the Real ID requirements passed by Congress in 2005. The Department of Homeland Security also says a change remains imminent for the identification passengers on domestic commercial flights will need to present.
DHS spokewoman Amanda DeGroff said in an email Tuesday that the federal agency is “in the process of scheduling plans” for an announcement about changing air-travel requirements. By law, it will give 120 days’ warning before the rule changes. Once it does, a Washingtonian will need to show either a passport or an enhanced state ID — which requires proof of U.S. citizenship — to be cleared to fly domestically unless the state and federal governments fix their impasse.
Washington remains one of a handful of states that have not complied with federal standards concerning driver’s license eligibility. In October, DHS denied the state’s request for an extension on the requirements. New York, New Hampshire and Louisiana received extensions.
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Department of Licensing spokesman Brad Benfield said state officials don’t have any idea when the federal government will announce that standard Washington licenses and identification cards aren’t sufficient for entrance to domestic flights.
“I don’t think they’re going to wait another year,” Benfield said.
Announcing the change 120 days out would “ensure that the traveling public has ample notice” to handle the change, such as by obtaining or renewing a passport to take a flight already ticketed, DeGroff said. The State Department estimates the typical processing time for a passport at 4-6 weeks, with expedited service available to customers willing to pay a higher fee, show up at a passport agency or both.
An enhanced Washington driver’s license, currently held by about 500,000 state residents, is routinely issued in 7-10 days, Benfield said.
He added that the number of state residents opting to pay an additional $3-per-year fee for the enhanced license “has, essentially, doubled” since the October federal denial of an extension.
“More people are aware of this, and they’re taking steps to get an enhanced license,” Benfield said.
DHS reported that the restrictions at federal facilities that took effect in October affected access to military bases.
But in the Puget Sound area, bases have been on high alert for almost two years because of threats from the Islamic State.
Civilian visitors to Joint Base Lewis-McChord must provide more than a driver’s license to enter the base’s gates, such as a confirmed invitation from military personnel or verifiable reasons for a business visit. A base spokesman said the new ID requirements did not change any of the base’s access policies.
Staff writer Adam Ashton contributed to this report.