Baldacci seeks extension on Real ID waiver

Posted Nov. 26, 2009, at 9:36 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. John Baldacci is submitting a request to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to continue Maine’s waiver from requirements of the Real ID law that take effect Jan. 1, 2010.

“I hope Congress acts and passes the Pass ID proposal in December,” he said earlier this week. “Unfortunately, they take things right up to the eleventh hour.”

Baldacci served eight years in the House of Representatives and said he saw firsthand the reluctance of Congress to pass legislation without deadlines. He said if Pass ID is not enacted, the Real ID law provisions take effect, which would hurt Maine and 35 other states that have not fully complied with all of its provisions.

“We have strengthened our driver’s license,” Baldacci said. “We have had abuses here in Maine and we have taken care of them.”

Baldacci endorsed the Pass ID legislation last summer when Napolitano proposed it as an alternative to the controversial Real ID law, which requires people to prove legal presence before being allowed to get a driver’s license. He said there is broad bipartisan support among governors for the measure. He endorsed a letter sent earlier this month from the National Governor’s Association to Congressional leadership urging passage of the legislation before the end of the year.

“Pass ID offers better, more secure and less costly standards for driver’s licenses than Real ID,” the governors wrote. “It would alter Real ID to allow state innovation in meeting security requirements and reduce costs by eliminating unnecessary requirements that do not increase the security and integrity of driver’s licenses and identification cards.”

But Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said it is uncertain the legislation will be acted on before Congress recesses for the holidays.

“In all of my time in the Senate, I have never seen so much on our plate for a December session,” she said earlier this week. “It is very frustrating that the Senate has not yet taken up the Pass ID legislation that we reported out of committee last summer.”

Collins is the ranking GOP member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and helped negotiate the Pass ID legislation with Napolitano. She said the Secretary does have broad authority to grant waivers under the existing law, but doubts she is in any hurry to ease pressure on Congress.

“There is no doubt this is controversial,” she said. “There are members who favor the original Real ID Act and members that want to repeal the Real ID act outright.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said she has not decided whether to endorse the Pass ID proposal. She said while it is an improvement over the existing law, it has a lot of critics and she is unsure whether the House would deal with the bill even if the Senate passed the measure.

“This has been very controversial, and it certainly is in Maine,” she said. “But we don’t want to see the consequences of the Real ID law taking effect and seeing long lines at the Jetport.”

Under existing law, a Maine driver’s license will not be sufficient to prove a person’s identity to board an airplane after the first of the year. Pingree said some in Congress may push for a delay in the existing law to provide the time to work out legislation that is acceptable.

Maine is one of 14 states that have a law saying the state will not comply with the Real ID law. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap is among those in the state who oppose the existing law and the Pass ID alternative. He said the existing law and the proposed measure have serious flaws.

“For example, there is no federal definition of legal presence,” he said.

Dunlap said while Maine has defined the term in state law and spelled out what documents can be used as proof of lawful presence, that is not part of the proposed federal law. He is also critical of the federal government for not addressing its own problems in issuing identification documents pointing to the visa process at the State Department that was criticized in the 9-11 Commission’s report.

Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, also opposes the Pass ID proposal arguing there is little real difference between the measures. She said in some aspects, the Pass ID proposal may be worse than the existing law with the creation of huge databases that could be hacked by crooks.

“The creation of all of these central databases are an identity thief’s dream,” she said.

No action on the Pass ID bill or a simple extension of a waiver of the Real ID provisions has been scheduled in either the House or Senate.

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