Maine legislators could be headed for a showdown with the federal government over the state’s refusal to comply with the mandates of a 10-year-old law regulating state-issued IDs.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Friday that beginning Jan. 22, 2018, travelers who want to board domestic flights will need to show either a state-issued ID that’s compliant with the 2005 Real ID Act or an accepted alternative, such as a passport.
That could become a headache for travelers from Maine and the 26 others states that have flouted the mandates of the Real ID Act, which set new, uniform security standards for how states issue ID cards. Those requirements include denying licenses to undocumented immigrants, using facial recognition technology and limiting licenses’ validity to eight years.
But not long after Real ID passed, a number of state legislatures fought back against what they saw as an invasion of privacy and the creation of what amounted to an “ internal passport.”
In 2007, Maine became the first state to reject it, passing legislation prohibiting compliance with the law’s mandates. Another 26 states followed suit, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And Maine has held firm to its objections
That means unless legislators take steps to get into compliance or Homeland Security finds a compromise with Maine and other noncompliant states, travelers with Maine driver’s licenses may need a passport to clear airport security for domestic flights in two years.
Heading to a showdown
While Maine has a law on the books prohibiting compliance with Real ID, the state has already met most of the federal law’s requirements. It has tightened security where driver’s licenses are made and prevented people from getting multiple state-issued ID cards. Undocumented immigrants can no longer get Maine licenses.
Maine hasn’t yet complied with some of the act’s more controversial requirements, such as using facial recognition software at Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices and fingerprinting BMV employees. In addition, the state hasn’t started to use Real ID-approved security markings on ID cards.
Homeland Security can’t force Maine to enact the remaining mandates, but Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said it can effectively force states to adopt Real ID by not accepting ID cards from noncompliant states for federal purposes. On Oct. 10, 2015, Homeland Security began doing just that by requiring visitors to show compliant ID cards to enter military bases, nuclear power plants and other secure federal facilities, such as the Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Any move to comply with the law will require legislative approval.
In addition to Maine’s law prohibiting general compliance with Real ID, state law includes a number of other individual provisions that go against Real ID requirements, said state Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, House chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, which oversees the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. In 2011, for example, the Legislature passed a bill, signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage, prohibiting the use of facial recognition technology to issue ID cards.
None of the 32 bills the Legislature is considering this session concern Real ID compliance. So it’s unlikely the Legislature will move to get into compliance in light of the latest deadline set by Homeland Security until next year at the earliest. On Thursday, Dunlap will brief Transportation Committee members on Real ID.
Homeland Security has given Maine until Oct. 10, 2016, to meet the remaining mandates of Real ID. While it’s possible Maine could receive an additional extension, Dunlap said the federal government will no longer grant extensions after Oct. 1, 2020, setting a time limit for the state to comply.
Who will blink first?
No one knows for sure what will happen if Maine hasn’t complied by 2018. Real ID originally was supposed to have taken effect in May 2008, but Homeland Security has delayed its implementation four times. With still more than half of states not in compliance, Dunlap said, it’s not clear whether the department will actually stop accepting their ID cards at airport terminals.
As states pushed back against Real ID, Homeland Security has eased up on certain requirements, shortening the list of steps a state like Maine must take in order to comply. Those include requirements to implant microchips in state-issued ID cards; retain digital images of birth certificates, Social Security cards and other identity documents; and store driver’s license information in a central database accessible by the federal government — the most criticized provision of the act.
By not enforcing several provisions of Real ID, Dunlap said it’s unlikely any state is actually in full compliance with the law.
Even if Homeland Security holds firm to its 2018 compliance deadline and Maine legislators decide to take steps to meet the remaining provisions, it still will take some time to come into compliance. Dunlap said the facial recognition technology alone would take six years to implement and cost close to $1 million.
For now, at least, Mainers won’t need to make any immediate changes to their travel plans or rush out to get a passport for that flight to Florida.