HELENA, Montana — The Department of Homeland Security has granted Montana an extension to meet stringent driver's license rules, but the governor's office suggested Tuesday that the state was still unwilling to comply with the federal REAL ID Act.
DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy Alan Bersin and Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs Philip McNamara sent Gov. Steve Bullock a letter Friday saying Montana's extension is effective until Oct. 10, 2015.
On Monday, most federal facilities began restricting access to people without REAL ID-compliant identifications, according to the letter from Bersin and McNamara. Eventually, Homeland Security officials plan to extend those restrictions to commercial airline flights.
Homeland Security officials sent Bullock a letter in December that said Montana was among 15 states and two territories that didn't comply with the law and would be subject to the restrictions. The latest letter says federal agencies may accept Montana identifications during the extension period.
The DHS review enclosed with the letter said Montana meets 26 requirements of the law, but the agency needs additional information to determine compliance with 13 other requirements. The law was passed in 2005 to fight terrorism and prevent identity theft. REAL ID-compliant identifications have various layers of security, such as verification of birth certificates, Social Security numbers and immigration status.
Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox oppose the REAL ID requirements, saying that Montana's driver's licenses are already secure.
Bullock and Fox characterized the extension as a victory that saw the federal agency back off its threat to stop accepting the state's licenses and identification cards.
"For us, REAL ID raises serious concerns about the extensive collection of their personal and private information by the federal government," Bullock said in a statement. "I'm glad that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recognizes the work we've done, independent of a federal mandate, to bolster the security of licenses, while protecting the right to privacy that Montanans hold dear."
In response to a question about whether Montana will meet the standards by the time the extension expires, Bullock spokesman Mike Wessler said in an email that Montana lawmakers previously voted unanimously against complying of the REAL ID Act.
"We'll continue to work to ensure that driver's licenses and ID cards issued by the state remain safe and secure, but ultimately Montanans, and Governor Bullock, have made it clear that they want no part of this federal mandate," Wessler said.