Friday, June 20, 2008

Manitoba Joins Border States in Looking at ‘Enhanced’ Drivers Licences

(The Canadian Press)

Legislators from the Dakotas, Minnesota and Manitoba are looking at so-called “enhanced driver’s licences.” The idea is to provide secure border crossings without forcing travellers to have passports.

The licences, using an embedded information chip, would be voluntary. Officials say they would also be more expensive than regular driver’s licences, but cheaper than passports. The officials spoke at the close of a legislative forum held in Bismarck, N.D., this week for legislators and other officials from North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba.

A few states have been given the go-ahead for the enhanced licences and officials in Manitoba have expressed interest.

Deputy Manitoba Premier Rosann Wowchuk says everyone wants to ensure that border crossings remain as unrestricted as possible to avoid economic damage on both sides. “When you live right next to one of your major trading partners, and you have thousands of people going back and forth, neither of us want to see that movement restricted because it will affect both of our economies,” Wowchuk said.

State Senator Tom Fischer (R-Fargo) said he expects legislators to take up the issue next year. “I would think that North Dakota would have a great interest in enhanced driver’s licences because of the proximity to the border and the amount of people that cross the border on a daily basis,” he said.

Minnesota state Representative Lanning said people will have to be educated about the enhanced driver’s licences. Some are confused about the difference between that concept and the Real ID system that U.S. Homeland Security officials want states to adopt, he said.

Under Real ID, driver’s licences would have to meet a national standard and be linked to record-keeping systems. Critics say the plan is too costly and fear invasion of privacy.U.S. federal official says that by 2014 anyone seeking to board an airplane or enter a federal building will have to present a REAL ID-compliant card, except for people older than 50.

North Dakota state Representative. David Monson said he has reservations about enhanced driver’s licences. “If it’s going to be a precursor to Real ID and that data is in some agency out of North Dakota, then I think we want to steer clear,” he said.

Lanning said the discussion about enhanced driver’s licences is a good example of why such multi-state legislative and border meetings are important.