Enhancing Minnesota driver’s licenses is important enough to warrant a special legislative session, even if nothing else is on the agenda, Gov. Mark Dayton told reporters Wednesday.
In a letter from federal officials that Dayton received Tuesday, he learned that the federal Department of Homeland Security would no longer allow Minnesotans access to federal buildings that require a federally approved Real ID driver’s license or other identification card.
More importantly, if the state does not show progress in meeting federal ID standards, it will be given a 120-day warning that Minnesota IDs no longer be accepted to board airliners.
Dayton called the letter “unwelcome, but not a surprise.”
The governor said he knows of just one federal facility in Minnesota that current state IDs could not provide access. However, his staff said that most complaints the office receives are from Minnesotans denied access to Washington, D.C. federal facilities.
If federal officials announce next week, as expected, that Real ID cards are needed to board airliners, it would give Minnesota officials until the end of April to launch its program. But Dayton said it could take three or four months for the state to get new IDs into the hands of Minnesotans, and he did not know how much time Homeland Security officials would give the state.
The governor said a special session is needed to overturn a 2009 law that forbids the state public safety commissioner from dealing with Real ID, which at the time was not popular in Minnesota. Dayton said that his staff is working on the issue, but Public Safety Commissioner Ramona Dohman cannot.
If the restriction is lifted in a special session, Dayton said, Dohman’s staff — which is responsible for driver’s license distribution — could begin working toward meeting federal requirements. Laws would need to pass in the regular session to complete the work.
Most Real ID federal requirements are designed to tighten identification card security.
Dayton called it “an absolute imperative” that a special session next month begin the process.
The governor last month sought a special session to extend unemployment benefits for laid-off Iron Range workers. He and others said Real ID also should be added to the agenda, along with beginning work on erasing an economic disparity between black and white Minnesotans.
The state Constitution gives a governor power to call a special session, but legislators can meet as long as they want and deal with any topics they wish. Given that, Dayton follows the tactic of previous governors and demands an agreement about specifically what would be debated.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, are setting up groups to study what may be taken up during a special session. One likely would not be called until after Jan. 11, the day many senators move into a new building, because the Capitol is closed for renovation and the Senate would have no offices and no place to meet.