Regional lawmakers plug ‘enhanced driver's license’ optionBISMARCK — Look for a new, less expensive option in the coming months that would ease Canadian border crossings, legislators from area states and Manitoba said Wednesday.
By: Janell Cole, N.D. Capitol Bureau
BISMARCK — Look for a new, less expensive option in the coming months that would ease Canadian border crossings, legislators from area states and Manitoba said Wednesday.
Known as an enhanced driver’s license, it would be less onerous than the controversial Real ID drivers’ licenses being pushed by the federal government and less expensive than a passport or a passport card, they said.
Unlike “Real ID,” the enhanced driver’s license would be entirely voluntary, and it has the blessings of the federal Homeland Security Department for use in Canadian and Mexican border crossings.
The program, known as the Western Hemisphere Border Initiative, is going to be vital in maintaining commercial and tourism business between the U.S. and Canada, the officials said.
“I would think North Dakota would have an interest in enhanced drivers’ licenses,” said Sen. Tom Fischer, R-Fargo. But to implement it here, “It’s going to take the legislative session” passing a law, he said.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, Minn., said the public will have to be educated for the enhanced drivers’ licenses to catch on and gain support. There is confusion about the difference between that concept and the Real ID system that Homeland Security wants to force states to adopt and which many states are resisting, he said.
Real ID has come under fire as a de facto national identification system with people’s data stored at the federal level and as too expensive for the states to implement.
The officials spoke at the close of a legislative forum held in Bismarck this week, in which lawmakers and other officials from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba held their eighth annual gathering to discuss mutual issues.
Lanning said the discussion about enhanced driver’s licenses “is a good example why” the meetings are important.
A speaker on the enhanced driver’s license topic, Marianne Rude, is an Ontario native working in Washington, D.C., as a consultant for the government of Manitoba.
She and the others said they’re trying to head off a halt in travel by Canadians and U.S. residents who do not have passports, can’t afford passports and who believe that once passports are required to travel, they’ll never visit Canada again.
Passports cost $85 to $100 apiece and the less useful passport card $45 and can have significant waiting periods. Lanning estimates three-fourths of Americans don’t have passports.
One North Dakota lawmaker who heard the presentation isn’t quite ready to trust the federal government on the enhanced drivers’ license concept until he learns more.
“If it’s going to be a precursor to Real ID and that data is in some agency out of North Dakota, then I think we want to steer clear,” said Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock.
Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.