Alaska eyes options for Real ID access as deadline looms

Alaska state Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky listens to testimony during a House hearing on the Real ID program on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Juneau, Alaska. Concerns have been raised about access to DMV services by residents in rural Alaska who want a Real ID, special licenses many will need starting Oct. 1, 2020, to board commercial flights in the U.S. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
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JUNEAU, Alaska The state is pursuing an expansion location for motor vehicle services in southwest Alaska, an official said Thursday, ahead of a fall deadline for special licenses many will need to board commercial flights in the U.S.

Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka told House lawmakers the site would target 20 communities where the state sees a need. Preliminary talks are underway for other expansion possibilities, she said.

The state Division of Motor Vehicles falls under Tshibaka’s department. DMV Deputy Director Jenna Wamsganz said the agency is speaking with an entity that possibly could provide services through a partnership agreement.

An Oct. 1 deadline looms nationally for Real IDs, special licenses many will need to board domestic flights and enter some federal facilities. Congress adopted the Real ID Act as a security measure following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Alaska for years resisted implementation, amid concerns about privacy and federal overreach, but relented under pressure from the U.S. government in 2017. The first Real IDs in Alaska were issued last year.

Tshibaka has emphasized other forms of ID that will be accepted and have less stringent documentation requirements than Real IDs, including passports, military IDs or tribal photo IDs.

The DMV estimates about 350,000 Alaskans have passports. About 65,000 have military IDs and about 115,000 so far have Real IDs. Wamsganz said there could be overlap because some people choose to get a Real ID as an additional form of identification. The state has about 730,000 residents.

It’s unclear how many people have tribal IDs, and some tribal officials expressed concern about the federal Transportation Security Administration recognizing those. Wamsganz said TSA has provided assurances photo IDs from federally recognized tribes will be accepted and has committed to improving training as much as it can to avoid travel hassles for tribal members using them.

For residents in rural areas not connected by roads, getting to a DMV can require a flight on a small plane and cost hundreds of dollars, in addition to gathering documentation for Real IDs, such as a birth certificate or passport and proof of a Social Security number and residence. About 80% of communities aren’t connected to Alaska’s main road system.

Under state law, someone must “clearly request” a Real ID, and the state can’t make a person get one, which Rep. Chuck Kopp, an Anchorage Republican, said Thursday has complicated matters. He said knowing what is known now, particularly the need for many Alaskans to travel for medical care, “I kind of wish we’d made it a little tighter.”

Leaders of tribes and tribal organizations spoke of their own outreach and investments to produce photo IDs.

Richard Peterson, president of the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, estimated around 30% to 40% of his members have tribal IDs. He said the cards are free, and there often are lines out the door when staff visit communities because of the interest.

Peterson said he also felt the state has a responsibility to ensure people have access to Real IDs.

Wamsganz told lawmakers Ravn Air, a prominent carrier serving rural communities, has offered to cover travel costs for DMV representatives to visit villages, a cost that otherwise would be shouldered by the communities. A Ravn spokeswoman confirmed the offer.

Tshibaka said the turnaround time to get a Real ID in hand after applying is about two weeks but the vendor could provide them in 24 hours. Wamsganz said legislation would be needed because the DMV would have to charge more for that convenience.