Bill introduced to enable digital licenses, Benson calls it a priority

By: - August 8, 2023 4:46 am

Michigan Advance graphic with State of Michigan driver license sample photo

Michigan could become the fifth state to enable residents to add a digital state ID to their phone under a package of bills recently introduced in the Michigan Legislature.

Senate Bill 459, sponsored by state Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), would allow the Michigan secretary of state to issue a digitized version of a state identification card.

Two other bills in the package – SB 460 and SB 461, both also sponsored by Anthony – would enable the same for driver’s licenses.

Apple announced in 2021 that they would begin allowing users in participating states to add their state ID to a digital wallet on their iPhone.

Since then, only four states have enabled the feature: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and Maryland.

A spokesperson for the Michigan Department of State said at the time that conversations had not begun with Apple, but that the department hoped to be among the first to adopt the feature.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson holds a press conference on the porch of the Grand Hotel during the Mackinac Policy Conference on May 31, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

Seven other states – Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Utah – offer their own digital ID apps but have not yet integrated them into Apple Wallet.

While only four airports currently support IDs in Apple Wallet, Detroit Metropolitan Airport is part of a field assessment pilot program that accepts those digital ID apps (although TSA PreCheck is required).

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told the Michigan Advance in May that allowing digital licenses is a priority for her office.

Some states have passed legislation to allow for digital licenses but not implemented a system to actually enable such a thing.

“We’re researching the best practices so we can inform legislators on how to pursue the legislation,” Benson said. “We’ve begun talking with folks in our state government about how to set up the technology to implement the digital licenses to ensure the safety and security of the data and the process itself.”

Benson said she has spoken with leaders in states that have already started the process of enabling digital licenses.

“And many have approached us as well to see what we’re doing,” Benson said. “We’re connecting with folks in similar positions in other states. We’re all trying to go in this direction.”

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said in an interview with the Michigan Advance in May that he has spoken with leaders in Louisiana about their digital license program.

“I think we need to do everything we can to increase license access and license portability, and those are two things that digital platforms can enable,” Gilchrist said.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist is interviewed by the Michigan Advance during the Mackinac Policy Conference on May 31, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

In the short-term, Benson said residents will likely still carry their physical licenses with them as a backup and in case certain agencies or departments don’t accept the digital version yet. Benson also noted federal REAL ID requirements could play a role.

“The important thing is, many states are already having these conversations with the federal government to figure all that out,” Benson said. “There may be times where certain agencies only accept the hard version. That’s what we’re trying to work out with other states and with lawmakers.”

Ultimately, Benson predicted that the feature will catch on quickly once a handful of forward-thinking states show that it can be done efficiently and securely.

“My hope and expectation is that over the next decade, all the states are there,” Benson said. “I think this is going to move quickly once we figure out the technology and get the political will to make it happen.”

Being in that initial group of states to adopt these features presents an opportunity for Michigan to be a national leader, Gilchrist said.

“I want to make our efforts in digitization and modification of government technology to be national leading. Given my experience coming in, that’s a great area of opportunity for it,” Gilchrist said. “So I’m looking forward to that opportunity. I think it’s a chance for Michigan to be a leader.”


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Andrew Roth
Andrew Roth

Andrew Roth is a former reporting intern with the Michigan Advance. He has been covering Michigan policy and politics for three years across a number of publications and studies journalism at Michigan State University.