Revisit Real ID

Posted April 30, 2009, at 7:23 p.m.

State lawmakers today will consider a bill to repeal most of a 2008 law that strengthened Maine’s driver’s licenses to comply with federal requirements. While many of the requirements are overly burdensome and costly, some of the changes Maine made in response to the federal Real ID law were needed and should not be undone.

Last spring the federal Department of Homeland Security threatened to stop allowing Mainers to use their driver’s licenses as identification to board airplanes and enter federal buildings if the state did not pledge to work toward compliance with Real ID requirements by asking for an extension of time to do so.

This situation, unfortunately, wrapped inadequacies in Maine’s licensing requirements into the controversial Real ID program. Ensuring Maine does not issue licenses to people who don’t live in Maine or who lie about where they live has nothing to do with Real ID, which focuses on national standards for driver’s licenses. Maine should have tightened its licensing procedures because they are inadequate, not because the federal government told it to.

There are two problems. First, because Maine didn’t have a residency requirement, it has issued thousands of licenses to people who have listed post office boxes, stores and even the Bureau of Motor Vehicles as their address. The law passed last year required proof of residency.

Second, Maine has also issued licenses to people who are in the United States illegally. Fixing this is more problematic because immigration is largely a federal issue, but it is one that can’t be ignored. Between 1976 and 1997, 46 Maine licenses were issued to people without Social Security numbers, which likely indicates they are in the country illegally, according to the Department of Public Safety. In 2007, more than 1,300 were.

LD 1357, which is scheduled for a public hearing today before the Transportation Committee, would repeal most of last year’s law. It would retain the residency requirement, which partially, but not fully, addresses concerns about whether an applicant is in the country legally.

Repealing requirements that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles look for cost-efficient ways to collect biometric information and that Maine participate in a federal database make sense as the federal government is considering rewriting or doing away with many Real ID requirements. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who as governor of Arizona signed a law prohibiting the state from complying with Real ID, recently said she was working with governors to find a different way to meet the law’s goals.

While Real ID was overly burdensome and raised legitimate concerns over how personal information would be handled, Maine should still only issue state identification to people who live in the state and are doing so legally.

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