Minnesota officials urge waiting on REAL ID upgrade

By KYLE POTTER
Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Some lawmakers are pressing to quickly upgrade Minnesota driver's licenses to meet federal standards, but state officials say it would pay to wait.

That's because the state's 40-year-old ID and driver's license system -- in the midst of a long and controversial overhaul -- could make quick upgrades difficult and cost up to $5.1 million, top officials at the Department of Public Safety told lawmakers Thursday. However, they said, if the Legislature holds off two years, the state could combine the ID changes with an overhaul to the computer system, eliminating the hefty set-up costs to bring the price tag down to $16,000 in annual operating costs.

"If we hold off and we can factor these changes and requirements and basically spread out some of the urgency of getting this implemented, that just mitigates some of the cost that we have to take on," Dawn Olson, the driver's license system's project manager, told a House committee Monday.

The stakes are high because Minnesota's old cards won't be accepted for domestic flights as soon as early 2018, though Gov. Mark Dayton has sought an extension to push that deadline out to the fall of 2020. Legislative leaders have pushed for a quick fix this fall to ease travel confusion and ensure residents can get their upgraded IDs within the normal, four-year renewal period.

Rep. Dennis Smith, R-Maple Grove, said he plans to put up a bill soon that would make the ID upgrades on that timeline. He said the department could dip into some agency funds to cover the higher cost.

"We're trying to make it as easy as possible for our residents to be able to fly commercially," Smith said.

But other lawmakers objected to the $5 million price tag, noting that overhaul to the state's driver's license system should have completed done by now. Started in 2012, the project hit several hiccups with vendors, increasing its cost. Olson said that project is on track to be complete in early 2018.

Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, said putting millions of dollars into the effort-- just before the older system gets replaced -- is "the height of squandering taxpayer dollars."

Some legislators said residents' concerns about what they need to board airplanes should be at the forefront as the Legislature weighs whether and how to move ahead with Real ID.

"What I hear my neighbors want is the assurance that they can use their driver's licenses to get on airplanes"," said Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato. "They want convenience in getting the new license, whatever it is."

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