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Travelers line up to go through TSA security at the Billings Logan International Airport in this file photo.

HELENA – An effort to make available a driver's license for Montanans that complies with the federal Real ID Act comes with a price tag of up to $4.6 million that could be paid for initially with a loan.

The change to a bill that would allow for two versions of licenses now enables the Department of Justice to get a loan from the Board of Investments for up to $4.6 million over 10 years. The loan would be paid back from fees charged on enhanced driver’s licenses.

Montana has bucked a mandate for enhanced driver’s licenses since the federal Real ID Act passed in 2005. The state argued that the demands are too intrusive, and raised concerns about the security of information collected.

The state has been granted extensions to allow residents to board planes or enter federal buildings using their state-issued driver's’ licenses, but a final extension was denied last year. As it stands now, starting Jan. 1, 2018, Montanans will need a passport to board a plane.

The changes to Senate Bill 366, carried by Sen. Jill Cohenour , D-East Helena, passed an initial vote in the Senate 36-12 and the House 84-15.

Cohenour said Monday that up-front funding for the changes needed to implement the bill has been hard to find this legislative session, with a budget that Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, termed the tightest he’s ever seen.

“So what we ended up with is, we will have a loan,” Cohenour said.

Amendments call for $875,000 in loan money in the first year to help the Department of Justice tell the public about the new licenses and to reprogram technology to implement the bill. That same year, $1.852 million in loan money would fund operating expenses to provide the new identification cards and driver’s licenses, and the same amount the next year would come from fees.

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The bill requires that any additional employee time needed to implement the new identification cards and licenses to come from existing Department of Justice staff.

Under the bill, Montanans would have a choice to get a Real ID-compliant license for an extra $25 when their current license expires. It costs $40 now for a license that lasts eight years. Noncompliant licenses would stay the same price.

So-called “early implementers” would pay an extra $50 to get a compliant license before their current one expires. Cohenour estimated 20,000 drivers would switch their licenses early.

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