ST. PAUL—Senate Republicans say Gov. Mark Dayton is jeopardizing the possibility of the Legislature approving a law to bring Minnesota's driver's licenses into compliance with federal Real ID standards.
"I am very concerned," said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a Republican from near Nisswa. "Senate Republicans have a simple strategy: We just want to focus on Real ID. Let's get Real ID done."
Dayton, a Democrat, told the Pioneer Press on Tuesday that he wants the Real ID measures that come out of the Legislature to allow his administration the power to create driver's licenses for immigrants living in the country illegally.
Neither the House nor Senate measures would allow for that possibility.
The Senate bill would leave the status quo in place, said Sen. Eric Pratt, a Prior Lake Republican and the chief sponsor of the Senate measure. Pratt's measure only lets the administration make rules allowing implementation of the federal Real ID requirements. It would not give the Dayton administration the window to immigrant driver's licenses he desires, he said.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, a Republican from near Crown, said driver's licenses for immigrants here illegally and Real ID changes are separate issues and should remain so. He said that if the two issues were linked, the resultant bill would not pass the Republican-controlled House.
Last week, the House version of the Real ID measure passed the House on a 72-58 vote. Only eight Republicans voted against it and only four Democrats voted for it.
The House bill would affirmatively limit driver's licenses to citizens or legal immigrants.
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor told the Pioneer Press that if Senate Democrats want undocumented immigrants to get licenses—and many of them do—they must band together to refuse to pass a Real ID bill without allowing the administration the opening to create the new licensing scheme. He reiterated that message to senators Tuesday evening in a private meeting.
Pratt said that message is a sign that the governor, who had said it was urgent pass a Real ID bill in recent years, is "playing politics with the issue." He said Wednesday morning that his bill might be in front of the full Senate for a vote next week.
The governor's plea to Democrats may be a powerful one, even though Democrats are in the minority in the Senate. In the 67-member body, Republicans have only 34 votes but will not win them all to support putting in place the federal standards to allow state driver's licenses to be used at airports and for other federal security checks.
"I have a few members that are passionately opposed to it," Gazelka said. That means Republicans only cannot provide the votes for the bill to win approval.
So far, only one Democrat has voted for the Senate Real ID bill in committee—Sen. Matt Little of Lakeville. But Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, is a co-sponsor of the bill. She said Wednesday that she still supports the Senate measure—although she would not support the Real ID bill as it came out of the House.
"Sen. Pratt is working very hard to produce a bill that gets the job done ... (and) is neutral in regard to controversial issues," she said.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.