Tester seeks Real ID extension as Montanans brace for noncompliance

Montanans looking to clear airport security to board a plane may need to find another form of identification next year if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security doesn’t grant the state another extension to comply with the Real ID Act.

Montanans looking to clear airport security to board a plane may need to find another form of identification next year if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security doesn’t grant the state another extension to comply with the Real ID Act.

Montana and seven other states, including Washington, Pennsylvania and Maine, do not currently issue state identification cards that meet the security standards adopted by the Real ID Act in 2005.

Sen. Jon Tester on Wednesday said he’s asking Homeland Security to grant the state another extension to give it more time to comply. The most recent extension expired last week and Montana is now in a grace period that sunsets on Jan. 22.

“We’re encouraging Homeland Security to allow an extension for Montana – we’ve had them in the past,” Tester told the Missoula Current. “At some point in time, you’ve got to fish or cut bait, but I think another extension would be smart by Homeland Security so we can implement a new plan.”

The REAL ID Act was introduced to set national standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards accepted by federal agencies for official purposes, which include boarding a commercial flight.

If DHS denies Montana’s request for another extension – and once the grace period expires after 90 days – travelers will need a U.S. passport or another form of accepted ID to board a plane.

“I’ve got language in the Homeland appropriations bill to deal with this issue to give us more time so Montana and the seven other states can be Real ID complaint,” Tester said. “It’s going to be interesting moving forward to see if we can keep that language in there. I know DHS doesn’t want that.”

Tester remains concerned over the holding of traveler information in a single national database, citing recent security breaches at Equifax, as well as retail outlets and some banks.

Tester said he’s looking for assurance from DHS that it can protect such information before the state moves toward compliance. But even then, that compliance won’t likely come before the grade period ends in January, meaning state residents should prepare now for future air travel if an extension isn’t granted.

“We’re asking DHS to give us some time,” Tester said. “We’ll figure it out, we’ll make sure civil liberties are protected, and we’ll make sure we have an ID that’s Real ID compliant.”