Alaska can’t pass the plate. Murkowski says state must invest in getting REAL ID to Alaskans

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski addresses the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (Photo by Alaska Senate Majority/Flickr)

Programming note: It’s a hectic week for me on the personal side of things so I don’t have the time to be doing recaps to a level that I’d be happy with. I’ll be doing one-off stories this week and (hopefully) back with recaps next week.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski delivered her annual address to the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday where she explained her actions on impeachment, bemoaned divisiveness in politics and defended Alaska’s position as a resource extractor on the forefront of climate change.

As usual, she generally steered clear of state politics and the issues immediately facing the Legislature, but she did weigh in on one area: The state’s duty to help Alaskans obtain REAL ID-compliant identifications ahead of the Oct. 1, 2020 deadline when the TSA will begin requiring them to fly.

“This is going to take state resources in order to get out to these communities,” she said. “In fairness, it’s not something that we just pass the plate and ask for it to be funded. We’ve just got to put resources toward it so people can move because in this state if you don’t have some compliant identification come October you won’t be able to move. You won’t be able to move for medical. You won’t be able to move for education. You won’t be able to move. It’s just our reality as a state where 80 percent of our communities are not connected by a road.”

The issue of REAL ID has been simmering for years, but the travel deadline is putting new urgency on the issue, particularly when it comes to rural communities that don’t have easy access to a DMV. The Dunleavy administration has seemingly pulled back on its efforts—which at one point included passing the plate and asking the public for donations—to help rural Alaska by now saying alternatives such as passports, military IDs and tribal IDs would be enough.

With talk about building equity into the budget, senators on the Senate Finance Committee have been particularly frustrated by the administration’s seeming dismissal of the issue, exacerbated by Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka conceding that they didn’t know about just how prevalent REAL ID-compliant tribal IDs are in Alaska. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said it was a matter of public safety, particularly when people might need to travel for health care.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, brought the issue up to Murkowski during the question portion of Murkowski’s address. He highlighted what Hoffman said about health care, noting that many people in rural Alaska don’t know about the deadline and could end up in a situation where they’re medevaced for medical care and then barred from returning home on a commercial flight.

“What kind of federal resources do we have available to us to try and get this thing taken care of because the state efforts seem to be muffed at this point,” he asked.

Sen. Donny Olson (center) listens to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s address before asking her about concerns due to REAL ID on Feb. 18, 2020. (Photo by Alaska Senate Majority/Flickr)

Murkowski said that with the looming deadline, it’s unlikely that federal help will come. She also said that an extension or exemption for Alaskans is not likely. She pledged what support she could, but ultimately said it will be on the state to handle things ahead of this deadline.

“We will work on the federal side to be as helpful as we possibly can, but we’ve got a deadline of October and you’ve probably noticed that getting appropriations bills out of the Senate don’t come quick or easy. So, you don’t want to hold your breath for that,” she said.

While she called on the state to put resources to the issue, she also said that Native corporations and tribes can and should have a role in coordinating the efforts to get resources to remote communities.

Murkowski also added that the REAL ID issue isn’t just one facing Alaskans living in rural communities, but one that will present troubles to all Alaskans. She said that she even had difficulty applying for a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license. She it’s critical Alaska act because it’s wrong for any Alaskan to face fear about travel.

“We don’t want to leave people who are stressed and infirmed and worried about leaving their home anyway for a medical procedure to wonder if they’re ever going to be able to return home,” she said. “That’s not right, that’s not fair and we, as Alaskans, can do better than that.”

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