Top leaders of the Minnesota Senate are in talks about how to revive the defeated Real ID driver’s license bill, if nothing else just to formally begin what promise to be difficult negotiations with House lawmakers.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said they met Wednesday as they search for language that both Republican and Democratic lawmakers could embrace. The bill failed Monday on a 38-29 vote, with five Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition.
Gazelka and Bakk said they’re aiming to reach a deal that would allow a new vote by the end of next week. On Wednesday, the Senate took a procedural step to ensure that a bill wouldn’t have to start from square one once a compromise is in hand.
“It has to be a bipartisan bill,” said Gazelka.
“If there is language that follows true to what we want to do, and that is to have a clean bill that does not change anything either way related to illegal immigration and driver’s licenses,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re there yet, but we have people looking at it. I’m open to getting it done sooner rather than later.”
Real ID is deemed a must-pass bill this session. The state is attempting to come into compliance with a federal law for security-enhanced licenses before 2018, when the card becomes essential to clear airport security or enter certain federal buildings. Without a Real ID, people would need a passport or another other federally approved identification even for domestic travel.
Minnesota has been slow to adopt Real ID because of skirmishes over data privacy protections and over existing rules that bar unauthorized immigrants from getting drivers’ licenses.
The Senate bill would have left those administrative rules in place while the House-approved version would write the prohibition into state law. Gov. Mark Dayton has requested that his Department of Public Safety be permitted to rewrite the rules in the future.
Bakk said no matter what a Senate bill looks like, the discussions between House and Senate negotiators could be rocky. Republicans have a sizable House majority, so winning over that chamber’s Democrats isn’t as important.
“The conference committee may drag on into spring,” he said. “At the end of the day, the bill is going to be difficult to pass in the Senate.”
Gazelka agreed that an explicit statutory ban on immigrant licenses would pose a challenge in a Senate where his party has a one-vote margin.
“We just want to be neutral,” Gazelka said. “We can’t focus on that issue if we want to get Real ID passed this year.”