AUGUSTA, Maine — U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is pressuring Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature to quickly change state law to avoid what he calls a “dire situation” regarding Maine’s noncompliance with federal Real ID rules.
In a Friday letter, Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, urged the repeal of a 2007 law passed by the Legislature and signed by then-Gov. John Baldacci, which prohibited Maine from participating in the national program that was implemented in 2005 as a homeland security measure to make it harder for terrorists to procure U.S. identification cards.
Maine is one of five states that remain out of compliance, and Poliquin wrote that the state is “in a dire situation.”
“Maine-issued driver’s licenses are increasingly no longer able acceptable forms of identification to access federal buildings and facilities,” he wrote. “My office has received news that Maine businesses are suffering because their employees cannot access federal job sites. … Our veterans cannot access health care facilities located on military bases.”
Aside from privacy concerns, implementing Real ID in Maine comes with a price tag of approximately $1 million. Maine has taken several steps to comply with Real ID, such as increasing residency documentation requirements in the driver’s license application process. But it has not implemented more controversial requirements, such as using facial recognition software at Bureau of Motor Vehicles sites and fingerprinting BMV employees.
Maine also has not started using Department of Homeland Security-approved markings on ID cards. Because of license renewal deadlines and other factors, it would take Maine about six years to switch all license holders over to the new cards.
Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a former Maine secretary of state, has sponsored a bill this year, LD 306, that would require Maine to comply with federal Real ID guidelines. The bill has been referred to the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, where it is scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday.
Diamond was a co-sponsor of the 2007 legislation but he said he changed his mind because early concerns were unwarranted. On Tuesday, he said his legislative office has been fielding “horror stories” about difficulties with existing IDs.
“It has all the potential of being a perfect storm if we don’t address this,” he said.
Concerns have revolved around privacy, and Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat, has called the Real ID program “Orwellian.” He said in a February letter to LePage that the program “abrogates the personal liberties of Americans” and “achieves none of its stated policy objectives” on national security “despite incredible costs.”
Poliquin said the Department of Homeland Security has told him that if Maine offers a written commitment to repealing the 2007 law and implementing other measures by June 6 of this year, some of the consequences of being out of compliance would be delayed. Following a repeal, his letter says Maine will need to outline steps for compliance to get an extension until Oct. 10, 2017.
The problems with Maine’s driver’s licenses will become worse on Jan. 22, 2018, when they will no longer be accepted by airlines for boarding domestic flights, though there are alternatives that can be used in place of a state driver’s license, such as a U.S. passport or passport card.
In October 2016, the Department of Homeland Security denied an extension for Maine to comply with Real ID because it had “not provided adequate justification for continued non-compliance.”
The issue is also under consideration in Congress. In late January, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st Congressional District, co-sponsored a bill to make it easier for Maine and other states to comply with the Real ID Act by eliminating provisions that require states to retain digital scans of identification documents for up to 10 years. The impetus behind the bill is a concern about identity thieves gaining access to the documents.
In a statement, Pingree spokeswoman Victoria Bonney said her boss “will continue to push for state relief in Congress, but believes it’s important that the Legislature continue their work on this issue” to ensure Mainers can board planes and access federal facilities with state IDs.
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.