Although the clock is ticking for the state to comply with the stricter federal driver’s license standards, Gov. Brian Schweitzer says he is confident Montanans’ travel plans will not be disrupted.
The Department of Homeland Security has told states they have until March 31 to ask for an extension in complying with the federal Real ID law passed following the 2001 terror attacks. The agency has said residents in states that are not in compliance could face extra screenings at airports or be required to carry alternate identification, such as passports, after May.
Schweitzer said Thursday he is sure something will be worked out with Homeland Security that will not require Montana to run afoul of a state law opposing the federal Real ID law.
Schweitzer said he believes Homeland Security got ahead of itself in setting the March 31 deadline, which he says is not specified in any federal legislation.
‘‘They are working on some things, and Montana is working on some things, and it will be fine,’’ Schweitzer said.
He would not specify if that meant Montana would have to meet the deadline. South Carolina, Maine and New Hampshire also have yet to seek an extension. Schweitzer, who last year said, ‘‘No, nope, no way, hell no’’ to the federal plan, says Montanans will still be able to fly free of extra restrictions come May.
‘‘You can count on it. It’s going to happen,’’ Schweitzer said. ‘‘(Homeland Security officials) are a little obtuse in their threats.’’
Schweitzer said Montana and other states are having discussions with the agency. He said he is not sure what exactly will take place to ensure Montana does not get hit with sanctions.
‘‘The path to get there is uncertain, but the destination is clear,’’ he said.
Last year, the Montana Legislature passed a law, signed by Schweitzer, that prohibits the state from complying with the Real ID Act.
The Montana attorney general’s office is deciding whether that state law also bars Montana from simply asking for the extension, spokeswoman Judy Beck said.
The attorney general’s office told a legislative interim committee on Thursday that the result of not complying is unclear.
Beck said Attorney General Mike McGrath’s office is still looking over options, including the consequences Montana would face.
A legislative staffer on Thursday told the Legislative Finance Committee that lawmakers could make a recommendation to the attorney general on what they would like to see done. The panel took no action to do so.
Schweitzer has urged fellow governors to join him in opposing full implementation of a national identification card. He told the governors that compliance would be a ‘‘Faustian bargain,’’ a reference to making a pact with the devil.
The American Civil Liberties Union has said that Homeland Security will not adopt travel restrictions if states force the issue.