When it comes to federal identification requirements, Alaska is about to be in a real pickle. In early June, the state’s last extension for noncompliance with the federal REAL ID Act will expire. Previously, extensions have been granted readily by federal authorities. But this time, no extension appears forthcoming. That will mean headaches for Alaskans traveling by commercial aircraft or onto military bases, as compliant forms of identification such as passports will be required at locations controlled by federal agents such as the military and Transportation Security Administration. Gov. Bill Walker has proposed a solution that, though somewhat inelegant, will balance the needs of those seeking access to federal facilities and those who have concerns about increased access to personal information by the government.
As the situation stands, precious little time remains to implement a solution to avoid negative impacts for Alaskans. In June, federally issued IDs such as passports would be required to access military bases. In January 2018, passports would be required for commercial flights, even those taking place within the state. In 2020, even passports would no longer suffice and REAL ID-compliant forms of identification would be mandatory.
Gov. Walker’s bills addressing the REAL ID requirement are Senate Bill 34 and House Bill 74. They would introduce a bifurcated system for state identifications such as driver’s licenses. Under the current system, Alaska’s IDs don’t comply with requirements of the act; the pair of bills would let the current system remain in place but also add the option of a REAL ID compliant license for those not wishing to get a passport to access military bases or commercial flights. There would be a small fee, set in the bill at $5, for those seeking a REAL ID-compliant form of identification.
The bifurcated solution isn’t particularly efficient, making the process of obtaining, maintaining and checking ID more complex. It does serve an important purpose, however, by providing an out for those who are wary of REAL ID Act requirements related to information sharing among states. It won’t be a permanent solution, as by 2020, passports will no longer suffice for air travel or base access. But it is an important concession for those who don’t travel and wish to maintain a higher standard of privacy.
A substantial number of people are likely to be negatively affected by the ID requirements if the Legislature doesn’t pass SB 34 and HB 74. Contractors working on improvements to Eielson Air Force Base, for instance, will need passports, and not all summer laborers are likely to be tracking the requirements. Given the substantial delay between filing a passport application and receiving a passport — in most cases, six to eight weeks — that means workers would miss two months of the already short summer construction season. For local companies and the military, that would likely mean delays and cost overruns. And in another six months, the same process would play out again for commercial air travel. The economic harm to the state could be grievous.
Alaska has long had a reputation for valuing the privacy of its people, and Gov. Walker’s plan to address the REAL ID requirements would help sustain that principle while providing an option for those needing compliant IDs for their livelihoods or convenience. The Legislature should pass Gov. Walker’s legislation to avoid the blindsiding of residents and industry when REAL ID requirements come into force.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, April 2, 2017