Enhanced Licenses Bill Passes in North Dakota Senate

The enhanced licenses must denote citizenship and identity "and contain technology and security features approved by the secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security," the bill states.

by John Hageman, Grand Forks Herald / February 18, 2015

(TNS) -- The North Dakota Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Tuesday to provide enhanced driver's licenses, a move that proponents said could make it more convenient for citizens to cross the Canadian border.

The bill, Senate Bill 2148, was passed 45-2 Tuesday. Only Sen. Connie Triplett, D-Grand Forks, and Sen. Oley Larsen, R-Minot, voted against it.

Sen. George Sinner, D-Fargo, said the enhanced licenses would be a secure and convenient way for businesspeople and farmers to cross the border.

"It's kind of inconvenient sometimes to have to dig for your passport, but you have your driver's license with you just about all the time," said Sen. David O'Connell, D-Lansford, whose district borders Canada. "Convenience would really be a plus on this."

The bill would allow North Dakota citizens to purchase enhanced licenses for an additional $65. The enhanced licenses must denote citizenship and identity "and contain technology and security features approved by the secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security," the bill states.

"This thing is very secure," Sinner said.

Triplett questioned whether different security protections exist for a passport and for enhanced driver's licenses. Sinner responded that he believed he wasn't aware of the security protections of passports, but said enhanced licenses would be secure.

Andrew Meehan, policy director for the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License, wrote in a January letter to the Herald that strict requirements make it "harder for an identity thief to fraudulently obtain an EDL under that holder's identity, as opposed to a traditionally issued driver's license." He said applicants must prove citizenship, residency and identity.

Meehan said a provision in a 2004 federal law that led to enhanced licenses was based on a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission, "which called for a program to be established that could provide preclearance of low-risk travelers such as North Dakota residents traveling daily across the border," allowing border officials to focus on travelers who haven't been cleared.

The bill would require an additional appropriation of more than $1.8 million to the Department of Transportation during the 2015-2017 biennium and $786,750 during the following two-year period, according to a fiscal note. The bill had been amended since it was introduced to increase the fee from $45 to $65, which would raise enough revenue to cancel out the expenditures, Sinner said.

The fiscal note estimates that 4 percent of drivers may get an enhanced license.

©2015 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.)