Passport to fly domestically? What Washington residents need to know

Published October 2017 on; more than 2,000 engagements on social; continues to be a highly-engaged story via SEO each month

Standard license; Washington DOL file photo

For years, Washington residents have expressed confusion over whether their driver’s licenses will get them through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints in the near future.

The concerns stem from a complicated federal law passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to bring better security at airports, and Washington state is still working to get into compliance. So what does this mean for residents?

Simply, read the first four answers to learn exactly what you need to get on a plane. Then continue reading the Q&A about the REAL ID act and how Washington is working toward a fix.

1. I’m a Washington resident with a Washington state license, what do I need to get on a domestic flight right now? 

Just your driver’s license, either standard or enhanced.

2. What do I need to get on a domestic flight next year? 

Again, just your driver’s license, either standard or enhanced.

3. When do rules change?

Enforcement for the new law starts in 2020, according to an extension granted to the Washington State Department of Licensing on Wednesday.

After enforcement starts in 2020, the state’s standard licenses will not be accepted by TSA. Read why below.

However, TSA will accept Washington’s enhanced driver’s licenses. Many residents in state already have these. If you need one, here’s how to apply

If you’re not interested in an enhanced license you, you can still board with other documentation — such as a passport, permanent resident card or military ID.

4. Will people be turned away after October 2020?

People using a standard licenses without additional documentation will not be allowed to pass TSA. Enhanced driver’s licenses will be permitted to enter.

So, what is the deal with REAL ID? 

Congress passed the REAL ID act in 2005 in an effort to strengthen identification rules at airports. The 9/11 Commission recommended it to the federal government to set standards for how source of IDs – such as driver’s licenses – are issued.

The act established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses. Under the law, state driver’s licenses and ID cards have to be issued only to people who can prove they are legally living in the United States. If state licenses don’t meet the standards, then federal agencies – such as the TSA – will not accept them.

Why does this matter now? 

The Department of Homeland Security will start enforcing the law in October 2020, but they have given a series of deadlines to states to get in compliance.

I thought enforcement started in 2018? 

Washington state was just given a new extension deadline of October 2018 to get into compliance. But DHS has indicated that states that have been granted an extension will not be subject to REAL ID enforcement at airports or federal facilities until October 2020

The Washington Department of Licensing expect to be in full compliance with the REAL ID act by fall 2018.

Why is it taking Washington so long to get in compliance?  

There are a few reasons.

1. Washington state offers two IDs.  This is the standard ID, which does not require proof of residency.

Standard license; Washington DOL file photo

Washington state also offers an enhanced ID.

Enhanced driver’s license; Washington DOL file photo

2. REAL ID is a mandate for federal agencies, and participation by states is voluntary, not required.

3. Also, Washington state had a law that prevented lawmakers from getting compliant with federal regulations. But an agreement made in the legislature this year – and the signed by Gov. Jay Insee – overturned that law.

How is the state resolving this? 

Inslee signed a new bill in April for a two-tier licensing system in attempt to get in compliance. This bill is under review with DHS.

Some state lawmakers believe the new law doesn’t go far enough to require proof of legal presence and others argue the licenses could lead to discrimination.

What does the two-tier system mean?

Under the new two-tier system, standard licenses will be marked as non-compliant in July 2018. The state and its residents will rely on enhanced licenses.

Basically, the solution in Washington is that people will have to choose which form of identification they want.

So after October 2020, will Washington licenses alone get me on a plane? 

Standard licenses: no.
Enhanced licenses: yes.

More extensively: Washington’s standard driver’s licenses are not in line with federal requirements. This is because Washington does not require proof of legal presence in the United States to get a standard state driver’s license or ID.

The state offers, but it does not mandate, TSA-approved enhanced driver’s licenses. These enhanced licenses require proof of U.S. citizenship.

Residents can choose which identifications they prefer. If you don’t want an enhanced driver’s license, you can use your standard license to get through TSA – just make sure to have another form of identification.

Eventually, Washington residents who only have standard licenses will need additional ID – like a passport, permanent resident card or military ID – in order to board a domestic commercial aircraft.

Didn’t Washington get a new standard license this year? 

Washington state rolled out new standard licenses this years that included security enhancements to protect against identity theft. It’s still not in compliance with the REAL ID act.

How much is an enhanced license? 

A standard ID costs $54 for six years, and an enhanced card is $78 for six years. Click here to read more about pricing.

Are more people getting enhanced driver’s licenses because of this? 

From 2015 to 2016, there was a 56 percent increase in people getting enhanced driver’s licenses. But DOL issued 305,368 people standard licenses in 2016, while DOL 122,541 people received enhanced licenses.

As 2017 progresses, more people are still getting standard licenses than enhanced licenses. The DOL told KIRO 7 News it’s going to soon begin a public information campaign to explain the difference between the two licenses.

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