The Legislature Really Wants to Help and/or Hurt Minnesota Cities Setting Municipal ID Programs
Northfield resident ID card (Photo courtesy of MinnPost)

The Legislature Really Wants to Help and/or Hurt Minnesota Cities Setting Municipal ID Programs

Municipal IDs are aimed at providing identification to people who are unwilling or unable to get state driver’s licenses or IDs, often because they are undocumented immigrants.

Northfield already issues them. Minneapolis is poised to. But a handful of bills aimed at regulating and weakening efforts by Minnesota cities to issue their own photo identification cards could determine whether other municipalities across the state will follow their lead.

Known as municipal IDs, one of the motivations for creating them is to provide identification to people who are either unable or unwilling to get state driver’s licenses or identifications — many because they are undocumented immigrants who aren’t able to open bank accounts or even rent apartments without such credentials.

Northfield was the first to act, rolling out its municipal ID in 2017. Minneapolis followed in 2018, though it hasn’t begun issuing the ID cards yet and doesn’t have a firm date for when that will happen. One factor in the city’s timetable — or lack of one — is getting an exemption to the Minnesota Data Practices Act from the Legislature for the information provided by cardholders.

Rep. Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis, said her bill, House File 2374, would put municipal IDs on par with state IDs, which would exempt an applicant’s full legal name, preferred name, gender, residential address, identification photograph and “any other data collected during the application process for a municipal identification” from being made available under the state Data Practices Act.

“The city of Minneapolis wants something that people can feel confident in applying for, that they’ll have that same level of protection that we expect when applying for a driver’s license,” Gomez said.

It isn’t just undocumented immigrants who aren’t able to get photo IDs, however. People who are transgender or gender nonconforming might not want state IDs that require them to declare as male or female, she said.

To allay fears that having such a card might single out cardholders as likely being undocumented, the program will encourage others to apply as well, Gomez said, by perhaps combining it with library cards, transit cards or by having merchants offer discounts to cardholders. The cards will also be recognized by the police as a valid ID, which could encourage people to be more willing to report crime and engage with police officers.

Yet if people are worried about losing control of their personal data, they might not apply, she said. “We don’t want to create a chilling effect around participation. We do need to deal with the data issues before the city feels like they’re in a position to issue IDs.”

Minneapolis doesn’t want to wait

Gomez was an aide to Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano in 2017 when Cano sponsored a staff direction to begin crafting a city ID program. A co-sponsor was then-Council Member and now Mayor Jacob Frey. The council adopted an ordinance late last year authorizing the IDs, and the city is spending 2019 preparing a program. No date for issuing ID cards has been set.

Cano said she wants the Gomez bill to pass the Legislature, but understands it might not get through this session. She doesn’t think the city would wait on its own efforts if that happens, though.

“We definitely want to have this as a component of the program,” Cano said. “There are strong reasons to have more protections for private data of citizens, so having this as a function of the Municipal ID would be important. But I don’t think it would necessarily halt the implementation of the [Minneapolis] program. We’d just have to dig deep and figure out how to ensure that we’re being responsible with people’s data.”

Cano said the protections in the Gomez bill would help people feel more confident. But while there are some applicants who would be reluctant to apply due to the fear of handing over their personal information, there are others who have already given their information to the federal government. For example, Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as young people and meet certain conditions — might not be deterred by giving their information to the city. Other undocumented residents pay federal and state taxes and have applied for ID numbers in order to do that.

“Locally, there are some folks who do feel that they would not want to apply to get a municipal ID if that meant their name and date of birth was going to be subject to a Data Practices Act request,” Cano said. “But there are others who already feel they are a target and this wouldn’t exacerbate that situation. It’s a challenge they face every morning, but a municipal ID card would not further target them but would provide them an opportunity to participate locally.”

The issue dovetails somewhat with a current state law that does not allow undocumented residents to get state driver’s licenses or ID cards. There is a bill moving through the DFL-controlled House to change that, though the measure faces hurdles in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Another bill, House File 2304, would create state rules for how cities can create and manage municipal identification cards. The bill’s author, Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, said the bill sets up a framework for cities and provides some uniformity in what documents are needed; how secure they are; and how often they must be renewed.

“There’s been a lot of interest in municipal ID, and my intent is to try to create a level of uniformity and a state standard,” Long said. “Right now they exist in a bit of a gray area and I want to make sure we have a state process that gives some comfort to folks as to how they are used.”

Barring the undocumented

Another pair of bills is trying to take the issue in a very different direction: Senate File 833(and its House companion, HF 510) would not only bar cities from issuing ID cards to undocumented immigrants, it would retroactively invalidate any ID cards issued to undocumented immigrants prior to passage of the bill.

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“The bill is a very simple bill,” said Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids. “Beyond the definitions it only has one sentence.”

“These are people who haven’t checked in with any jurisdiction within the United States and I don’t think municipalities should be the first ones issuing those,” Utke said. “It leads to a lot of possibilities for fraud and corruption. We’re a land of laws, and basically all we’re doing is following the law. We’re one state and we should have one law and shouldn’t have have 833 different municipality laws. That doesn’t do us any good at all.”

Even if his bill doesn’t pass, Utke said he thinks the bills exempting personal information from DPA requests is likely needed before Minneapolis can move forward. “Who’s gonna show up, put your name on the list to be turned in?” Utke asked.

Long and Cano said they would oppose the Utke bill and said that the city won’t ask for immigration status in the application process. While immigration documents are among those that can be used to prove identification, other documents would also be able to do so.

The Minneapolis ordinance specifically says that the card cannot be used to register to vote, as a driver’s license, to show eligibility for government benefits or to buy liquor or cigarettes. It can be used for transactions such as opening a bank account, being admitted to a hospital, proving identity when picking up a prescription, filing a police report or registering children for school. “The city of Minneapolis is not in the business of checking immigration status,” Cano said. “It would be off-base to build a bill around that assumption.”