Editorials

State must quit dawdling on Homeland Security law

From the editorial board

Passengers wait to go through security at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport during the pre-Christmas rush. Getting clearance to fly on a commercial airliner will get more complicated when federal Real ID restrictions go into effect. It’s currently scheduled for January 2018.
Passengers wait to go through security at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport during the pre-Christmas rush. Getting clearance to fly on a commercial airliner will get more complicated when federal Real ID restrictions go into effect. It’s currently scheduled for January 2018. Associated Press file, 2010

Nearly 15 years have passed since 9/11 terrorists holding various identification cards attacked America. More than 10 years have passed since Congress ordered states to meet minimum standards for driver’s licenses and ID cards so that people can prove they’re in the country legally. Washington state lawmakers have lollygagged on this national-security imperative ever since.

The federal government has been patient to a fault in the way it has implemented the Real ID law. It has dispensed grace to 28 states, including Washington, that remain out of compliance.

Case in point: public access to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Unescorted visitors were warned that starting this month, they could no longer use their Washington driver’s license to get past JBLM checkpoints; they would have to produce a passport or other approved identification, base officials said.

Turns out they were only fooling; April 1 was not the hard-and-fast deadline.

“They’re not actually turning away people at this point,” JBLM spokesman Joe Kubistek said Tuesday. “They decided to take a softer approach and just educate visitors (until May 1).”

The feds have shown even more forbearance with restrictions on airline travel. Having already delayed several provisions of the law since 2008, Homeland Security officials announced in January that residents of noncompliant states can keep using their regular IDs to board flights for two more years.

Elected leaders in Olympia have taken full advantage of their Get-Out-Of-Real-ID-Free card. For years, they’ve treated the federal security deadlines with even less urgency than the school-funding-reform deadlines imposed by the state Supreme Court in its McCleary decision.

The funny thing is, 2018 now looms as the year of reckoning for the McCleary obligations as well as the federal air-travel cutoff. This mean the 2017 Legislature looms as the time when excuses finally run out.

Memo to potential legislative candidates planning to file for election next month: Are you sure you’re cut out for this?

While the feds have been gracious in moving Real ID deadlines, their mercy does have limits. Washington is one of four states that are not only noncompliant with the law, they’ve been denied extensions because they haven’t shown serious progress.

For Real ID critics, the sticking point has long centered on concerns about cost, privacy and federal overreach. Democrats also have raised fears of discrimination against immigrants with basic transportation and identification needs, an issue that flared this week in the Democratic presidential contest.

Washington was the first state to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. New Mexico followed the same script until February, when it passed a law requiring proof of legal presence to obtain a license. A week later, the feds showed their appreciation by granting the Land of Enchantment an extension.

Washington House Speaker Frank Chopp told the News Tribune editorial board Tuesday that a group of legislators will work on a solution during the interim before 2017. “There’s a little more sense of urgency about this,” the Seattle Democrat said.

A good starting point would be a bill proposed by Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima. It would create a three-tier ID system that expands on the state’s existing standard and enhanced driver’s licenses. It would distinguish them with separate designs and security marks, and the most basic license would clearly state that it’s not valid for federal purposes.

State officials have already tested the federal government’s patience. They’ll test their own people’s patience, too, if eleventh-hour negotiations lead to long lines at DMV windows, passport offices and airport security gates.

Within the next year, they should make Washington a real partner in the nation’s Real ID plan. Meanwhile, pray that nobody with ill intent and a Washington ID gains easy passage on a flight out of Sea-Tac airport.

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