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Alaska travelers, civilian military employees will soon need a passport unless Legislature passes REAL ID bill

 Snow falls in March 2017 in front of the Alaska Capitol in Downtown Juneau
Snow falls in March 2017 in front of the Alaska Capitol in Downtown Juneau (KTUU)
Published: Mar. 23, 2017 at 2:58 PM AKDT
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The Department of Homeland Security has been warning Alaska policymakers for more than a decade to bring state law into compliance with the REAL ID Act, or else.

The latest

else

will arrive on the anniversary of D-Day, June 6, when Alaskans who need access to military bases will be required to have an ID that fits the federal guidelines established in 2005. And this time around, the feds insist they will not approve another extension.

Still, it remains unclear if the Legislature will prioritize passage of House Bill 74 or Senate Bill 34, proposals that would reverse a 2008 law that prohibited the DMV from spending any money to comply with the federal identification law.

Over the years, one persistent concern has kept the state from complying with the federal identification rules: the notion that personal information about Alaskans would end up in national or even perhaps an international databases, something that would not happen, according to DHS.

Unless that concern is addressed adequately enough that lawmakers act soon and pass one of the bills that will get the Department of Motor Vehicles up to speed, civilian construction workers, teachers, and many others would need to carry a current U.S. passport to show up to work.

"It doesn't mean you can't come on post or base. It means that you have to be escorted," said Maj. Gen. Laurel Hummel, who acts as the adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard.

"If they're escorting, then they're not doing their job, and so it has a mission impact for sure," added Lt. Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, the top U.S. Air Force official in the state. "For example, the construction workers at Eielson Air Force Base, who build the facilities for the F-35, if there's a slowdown there and we get behind schedule, then that's a significant problem."

Hummel said the state Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs is worried enough about civilian workers needing escorts on base that she sent a letter to all employees suggesting they apply for a passport soon.

And six months after the June deadline -- if a new law does not take effect and no waiver is approved -- the problems would only get dramatically worse. If the impasse continues, Alaskans would need to acquire a valid passport to pass through airport security starting Jan. 22, 2018, and people who show up with nothing but a state-issued driver's license would be turned away.

Administration Commissioner Sheldon Fisher, whose job includes oversight of the DMV, said he agrees that the looming deadlines need to be taken seriously.

"Today, there are five other states that have not passed REAL ID that are in fact being restricted to military bases," he said in an interview. " So it seems like the federal government will enforce it as they've said."