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State to manufacture 2 different ID cards, driver's licenses

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MISSOULA, Mont. - The Montana Legislature passed a bill that calls for the manufacture of two separate ID and driver's license cards in the state. Gov. Steve Bullock signed the bill into law this spring, and now lawmakers are working to implement the changes.

As it stands today Montana state ID cards and driver's licenses are not considered a valid form of ID, according to the Real ID Act of 2005. Montanans are not allowed to enter federal buildings or military installations in the U.S. using only their state ID card.

Starting in January 2018 the TSA will not accept Montana IDs, making it difficult for Montanans without a passport to travel through airports.

The restrictions come from the federal government's Real ID Act of 2005 that set a national standard for state ID cards. Compliant ID cards include special features like a star in the upper right corner that Montana IDs do not have as of June 2017.

Montana lawmakers -- as well as some in other states -- have opposed the Real ID Act for years over privacy concerns. In order to receive a Real ID the law requires residents submit their birth certificate to a federal database.

The 2011 Montana Legislature passed a bill outlawing the Real ID Act, but the 2017 Montana Legislature reversed the order in Senate Bill 366. It lets Montanans choose if they want the standard state ID or if they want a Real ID-compliant one. Residents cannot get both.

You can read all the stipulations of the bill here.

"This was a real problem, and the timing of it couldn't be better for us to go ahead and address it in the last session," said bill author State Sen. Jill Cohenour (D-East Helena).

Cohenour says the upgrades are long overdue.

The bill says the new IDs will cost $65. Cohenour says the fee will pay the state back for up to a $4.5 million loan from the state Board of Investments to fund the manufacturing and implementation.

Cohenour says the money will fund new equipment, software upgrades and go toward hiring staff that will have to process thousands of requests for new ID cards. Cohenour says the Real IDs will only be available in Montana's seven largest counties.

Missoula resident Sarj Patel knows the importance behind having a valid ID, maybe more than anyone.

"I'm a foreign national, so if I need to travel to any federal facility as part of my work I will need to have that ID," he said. "I know some folks may not get out of the state quite so much and may not feel the need to, but even if they travel to like, let's say Helena, and need to get into one of the federal buildings there, that could be problematic."

Patel says he is willing to pay the fee.

"I've paid for a lot of Visas, so $65 is quite a bargain for me," he said.

Some people feel otherwise. "It's a little excessive, but I mean if I need to travel then I guess I don't really have an option," said resident Josh Brandenburg.

Cohenour hopes to implement the new ID system by January 2018 before the TSA restrictions go into place but says state officials still have a lot of work to complete.

"We still need to do that implementation as soon as possible, so that we know whether it's functional or not," she said.

She says if the system is not in place by January 2018 the state is hoping for another extension from the Department of Homeland Security that would keep Montana IDs valid until October 2018.

Residents can still use a passport or passport card in place of a Montana ID to travel through airports.

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