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Drivers seek enhanced IDs

Judd Grafe clutched a pile of documents as he waited in a long line at a Rochester driver’s license office to apply for an Enhanced Driver’s License.

Judd Grafe clutched a pile of documents as he waited in a long line at a Rochester driver's license office to apply for an Enhanced Driver's License.

The Rochester resident braved the crowded center after news last week that Minnesotans soon may no longer be able to use their driver's licenses to board domestic commercial flights. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security rejected the state's request for an extension to comply with the Real ID Act of 2005. While the state's standard driver's license doesn't meet the new federal requirements, its Enhanced Driver's License does.

Grafe does a lot of traveling for the family's business — Grafe Auction. He said he applied for the license in part to figure out just how complicated it would be for the company's employees to do it.

"We travel for business frequently, so we've been aware it's going to be something we need to do," he said.

And Grafe is not alone. The number of Minnesotans applying for Enhanced Drivers Licenses spiked in December, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. More than 3,000 enhanced IDs were issued between Dec. 1 to Dec. 18. That represents nearly a quarter of all the IDs issued since February.

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It's important to know Minnesotans still will be able to board planes with their regular driver's licenses on Jan. 1. The federal government has said it will give Minnesota 120 days notice before it stops accepting driver's licenses. At that point, Minnesotans need a Real ID compliant form of identification, such as a passport, passport card or Enhanced Driver's License.

Congress passed the Real ID Act based on recommendations from the 9/11 Commission. This heightened ID requires verification of an individual's identity, residency and lawful status in the country. Minnesota is one of only a few states yet to take steps to come into compliance with the law. In 2009, the Minnesota Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill prohibiting the state from taking steps to comply with Real ID. At the time, lawmakers raised concerns about privacy rights and added costs. But with federal action looming, Gov. Mark Dayton is asking legislative leaders to support a special session to address the Real ID issue, in addition to extending unemployment benefits for laid-off Iron Rangers and addressing racial inequality in the state.

Rochester Sen. Carla Nelson is urging her constituents who are renewing their driver's licenses to consider getting an Enhanced Driver's License now.

"Why don't we start telling people about it now so that they can start choosing whatever option is best for them? We don't have to wait for the federal government to come in and say,

'Now, you've only got 120 days,' and there's a mad scramble," Nelson said.

Getting the word out to drivers remains a challenge. As Rochester resident Debbie Anderson waited in line at a Rochester driver's license center, she was asked if she had heard of an Enhanced Driver's License.

"I haven't, and I fly all the time," Anderson said.

Another challenge for drivers is finding a location that issues Enhanced Drivers Licenses. There are only 14 locations in the state that process applications. Only one of Rochester's locations — 1633 N. Broadway — issues these licenses. The only other location in southeast Minnesota is in Austin at 430 10th St. NE. Once an application is processed, it takes about six weeks for the card to arrive by mail.

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Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said he has gotten plenty of calls and emails from constituents worried about whether they will be able to get on a plane with their driver's license. He said, at this point, it appears lawmakers will have time to take steps toward compliance during the regular session in March. If lawmakers fail to get that done, he said he expects there would be a public outcry.

"I would be a little anxious, too, if I was going to buy a plane ticket, and you show up at the airport and all of a sudden you can't get on a plane," Sparks said. "I think our phones would be ringing off the hook."

What is it?Congress passed the Real ID Act of 2005 based on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. In order for an ID to be compliant with the new federal law, it requires verification of an individual's identity, residency and lawful status in the country.

Why does it matter?Because Minnesota's driver's license do not comply with the new federal law. That means that eventually Minnesotans will not be able to use a driver's license to board a domestic commercial flight. Already new federal regulations have kicked in requiring Real ID-compliant identification — such as a passport — be used at all federal facilities, including military bases.

What is an Enhanced Driver's License?Minnesota driver's have the option of getting one of these enhanced IDs, which meets the Real ID requirements. It requires additional documentation in order to qualify. It costs an extra $15.

Where can I get one?There are only two locations in southeast Minnesota that issue Enhanced Driver's Licenses. One is the Rochester driver's license office at 1633 N. Broadway. The other is in Austin at 430 10th St. N.E.

What documentation do I need?There's a lengthy list of documents that are accepted to confirm date of birth, legal name, Social Security number, proof of photographic identity, proof of U.S. citizenship and proof of Minnesota residency. Examples include birth certificates, Social Security cards, driver's licenses, utility bills and tax returns. For a breakdown, go here .

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Other options?Other forms of identification that comply with Real ID include a passport and a passport card, which can be used to enter the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda at land border crossings and sea ports-of-entry.

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