Montana's Real ID Compliance Comes with $4.6 Million Price Tag

As it stands now, starting Jan. 1, 2018, to board a plane state residents will need a passport.

by The Montana Standard, Butte / April 26, 2017

(TNS) — An effort to make available a driver's license for Montanans that complies with the federal Real ID Act comes with a price tag of up to $4.6 million that could be paid for initially with a loan.

The change to a bill that would allow for two versions of licenses now allows the Department of Justice to get a loan from the Board of Investments for up to $4.6 million over 10 years. The loan would be paid back from fees charged on enhanced driver’s licenses.

Montana has bucked a mandate for enhanced driver’s licenses since the federal Real ID Act passed in 2005, arguing the demands are too intrusive and raising concerns about the security of information collected.

The state has been granted extensions to allow residents to board planes or enter federal buildings using their state-issued driver's’ licenses, but a final extension was denied last year. As it stands now, starting Jan. 1, 2018, to board a plane Montanans will need a passport.

The changes to Senate Bill 366, carried by Sen. Jill Cohenour, passed an initial vote in the Senate 36-12 and the House 84-15.

Cohenour said Monday up-front funding for the changes needed to implement the bill have been hard to find this legislative session, with a budget Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, said is the tightest he’s ever seen.

“The funding was difficult to find this session, so what we ended up with is we will have a loan,” Cohenour said.

Amendments call for $875,000 in loan money in the first year to help the Department of Justice inform the public about the new licenses and to reprogram technology to implement the bill. That same year it would take $1.852 million in loan money for operating expenses to provide the new identification cards and driver’s licenses, and the same amount the next year would come from fees.

The bill requires any additional employee time needed to implement the new identification cards and licenses to come from existing Department of Justice staff.

Under the bill, Montanans would have a choice to get a Real ID-compliant license for an extra $25 when their current license expires. It costs $40 now for a license that lasts eight years. Noncompliant licenses would stay the same price.

So-called “early implementers” would pay an extra $50 to get a compliant license before their current one expires. Cohenour estimated 20,000 would switch their licenses early.

©2017 The Montana Standard (Butte, Mont.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.