State senator calls for REAL ID extension to help rural Alaskans

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, speaks at the Alaska Legislature, April 15, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

One Alaska state senator wants Gov. Mike Dunleavy to ask President Donald Trump for an extension of the REAL ID deadline, as well as additional funding for outreach in rural communities.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, wrote to the governor on Dec. 31, saying that both Dunleavy and Trump have a responsibility to ensure the ID mandate is implemented properly so as not to infringe upon Alaskans’ rights to travel.

As of Oct. 1, 2020, a REAL ID or other acceptable identification, such as a passport or a Bureau of Indian Affairs card with a photo, would be required for commercial air travel and to enter federal buildings or military bases.

Alaskans in remote communities sometimes rely on air travel for medical appointments. Olson said they’re concerned.

“Let’s say that somebody out of Shishmaref or Savoonga goes ahead and gets medevaced straight to Anchorage,” he said. “If they get down there and don’t have a REAL ID, they will be prohibited from getting on the jet to go back to Nome and go back to their respective villages.”

Alaskans are not able to apply for a REAL ID by mail, meaning many village residents, like Olson himself, will have to fly to their nearest Division of Motor Vehicles location in hub cities such as Nome or Bethel.

“So here in Golovin, to get to Nome it’s $190,” Olson said. “That’s $380 round trip.”

Olson’s letter follows a December announcement from Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka asking for $60,000 to create a rural outreach program to help rural Alaskans obtain the REAL ID.

In his letter to Dunleavy, Olson calls the REAL ID mandate “unwanted,” writing that the state should be doing everything possible to reach out to every rural Alaskan to be REAL ID compliant by the Oct. 1 deadline. He suggests a rural outreach program where officials would make multiple visits to villages.

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