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Behind the scenes: What happened in the Minnesota legislature (and it’s not over yet)

Posted on Jun 13 2017

Minnesota REAL ID was one of the first orders of business that the state legislature worked on this session and one of the last bills signed into law. The federal REAL ID act, signed by President Bush in 2005, requires proof of U.S. citizenship for a ‘compliant’ license that can be used as identification to enter some federal buildings and board flights. Thirteen states also provide for a second kind of license, ‘non-compliant’ licenses that are available to all residents regardless of citizenship status.

Minnesota is one of the last states to bring its own licenses into compliance. ILCM and advocates knew that the issue that stalled the bill in 2016, licenses for the undocumented, would once again be in play this year. This year’s fight over adopting REAL ID included a protracted debate around granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

The key issue of disagreement between the House and the Senate versions of the REAL ID bill was the immigration issue. The House bill required proof of legal status for receiving any Minnesota driver’s license, while the Senate version effectively did the same by preventing the Department of Public Safety from changing its rules on requirements for a license.  This anti-rulemaking provision sought to move the current prohibition on driver’s licenses from administrative rules into a harder-to-change statute.

The House approved their version 72 to 58, mostly along party lines. The Senate, however, failed to pass their bill, with the restrictive language, by a 29-32 vote. The Senate brought back the bill without the anti-immigrant language and it passed with broad bipartisan support.

A conference committee was called to work out the difference and after several meetings, it eventually passed a clean REAL ID bill that did not restrict rulemaking on licenses for immigrants. The governor signed that bill.

Unfortunately, the fight wasn’t over: it had simply moved elsewhere. At what seemed like the last minute of the legislative session, language restricting driver’s licenses for immigrants was inserted into the public safety omnibus funding bill. The regular session ended without agreement on most spending bills and the anti-immigrant language was now included in the global debate about public safety, judiciary funding and the possibility of a government shutdown. Ultimately, as part of an agreement to avoid a government shutdown, the anti-rulemaking, anti-immigrant language became part of the global budget negotiations and was signed into law by the governor.

That may not be the end of the story. Immigrant leaders and community members ultimately spent the final week of the session protesting the bill and sought a veto from the Governor, all to no avail. While Governor Dayton signed the omnibus funding bills, he line-item vetoed funding for the House and Senate, essentially forcing legislators to come back for further negotiations if they want to continue to be paid. One of his explicit demands is a removal of the anti-immigrant language from the Omnibus Public Safety bill. After meeting with leaders from the community and ILCM’s executive director, Dayton also promised to  continue to meet with immigrant community leaders and committed his Administration to doing everything it can to protect immigrants over the remainder of his term.

Throughout this entire process, your phone calls and messages to legislators urging support of immigrants and their families made a real difference. One legislator told me they’d received 15 calls about REAL ID in just one morning! More than 300 calls were made via Action Alerts from ILCM, and probably at least as many more by people who made calls but did not report them on the page.

While we are obviously disappointed with the final outcome, we are hopeful that some new opportunities arose to help build a more welcoming state and to build on-going support to restore driver’s licenses for all in the near future. ILCM and the immigrant community thank each of you for your efforts and support. The fight to make Minnesota a welcoming state for all people is going strong and we are in it together. If you aren’t already receiving our Action Alerts, sign up here and follow us on Facebook.

by Nick Rea, Advocacy & Policy Intern