After nearly a decade of opposition, Alaska may pass ID card legislation

• Alaska Legislature hurries to finish ID work before federal deadline this week • REAL ID legislation must be signed by Gov. Walker before Friday

The Alaska Capitol is seen on May 15, 2017. (James Brooks | Juneau Empire)

Alaska is closer than ever to becoming part of the national ID system known as REAL ID.

 

On Monday, the Alaska Senate voted 14-5 to allow the Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles to abide by the federal REAL ID law.


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The House approved a similar measure on Saturday and confirmed its action with a procedural vote Monday. The House and Senate will now trade bills, with the Senate’s version going to the House and the House’s going to the Senate.

Either version must be approved by both bodies and signed into law by Gov. Bill Walker before Thursday in order to comply with an approaching federal deadline. If Alaska doesn’t meet that deadline, Alaskans might have to present passports to fly across state lines or enter military bases and federal buildings.

“On June 6, we do have a federal mandate and a gauntlet coming down,” said Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, before his ‘yes’ vote.

Congress in 2005 mandated that state-issued IDs abide by certain standards and that identifying information be placed into a national database for easy checks across state lines.

Alaska, which has a privacy-protection clause in its constitution, objected. In 2008, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, sponsored a bill that forbids the state from spending money to abide by the law. That bill passed the Senate and House and was signed by Gov. Sarah Palin. It remains state law.

In the same year, John Coghill — then a representative from North Pole — authored a resolution urging Congress to repeal the REAL ID Act.

Congress never did, and the state repeatedly sought waivers to avoid the federal law’s consequences. The last of those waivers is about to expire, and Gov. Bill Walker has sought legislative action.

On Monday, Coghill, now an Alaska senator, reversed his actions from nine years ago and voted to enact REAL ID in Alaska.

The Senate’s version of the legislation allows Alaskans to choose between a federally compliant ID and one that doesn’t comply.

Lawmakers have repeatedly said they are concerned about how well the federal government cares for citizens’ information and how vulnerable it is to hacking. Coghill called the vote a choice between national security and personal privacy.

“The biggest thing is do we protect the information we have available? I would say Alaska is as good as it gets,” he said.

Wielechowski continued to maintain the opposition he voiced nine years ago, saying that the federal government cannot be trusted to secure Alaskans’ privacy.

“The risks are just too big for the state,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to stand up, and this is one of those times.”

The House version of the measure is House Bill 74. The Senate’s version of the measure was rolled into House Bill 16.


Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 419-7732.


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