BANGOR, Maine — The clock is ticking as Maine lawmakers work to address the state’s continued noncompliance with a decade-old federal law regulating state-issued identification.
Maine is one of five states that aren’t compliant with the Real ID Act, which sets national standards to ensure the security of state-issued identification, and the federal government on Monday stopped permitting access to certain federal facilities — military bases, the U.S. mint and nuclear power plants, among others — to visitors with Maine-issued driver’s licenses.
Unless the state acts, the consequences for flouting the law become more severe on Jan. 22, 2018, when travelers who want to board domestic flights need to present a compliant identification or an accepted alternative, such as a U.S. passport or passport card.
“The ramifications of the enforcement are going to be significant for Maine citizens who have no idea that this is coming their way,” said Democratic Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham, who has sponsored a bill — LD 306 — to get Maine into compliance. “This is one of those things we really don’t have much choice on.”
Real ID emerged in 2005 among a slew of legislation to address national security concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks, and it was one of the key recommendations in the 9/11 Commission Report.
But many states balked at what they saw as federal overreach. And the Maine Legislature in 2007 passed a law prohibiting the state from complying with Real ID amid concerns that it would create a de facto “internal passport.”
Diamond, who was a co-sponsor of the 2007 bill, said that lawmakers at the time had significant concerns about privacy, but as more states have complied with the law, he said Real ID wasn’t “the nightmare” they thought it would be.
“Those early concerns, although legitimate, have proven to be unwarranted,” he said.
His bill is expected to be referred to the Transportation Committee this week, with a public hearing to follow in mid-February or early March.
‘On the front burner’
Although the state is prohibited from complying with Real ID, Maine has improved its licensing process in ways that bring it into alignment with some of the law’s requirements, including requiring documentation to prove that license applicants are in the U.S. legally and live in Maine, tightened security at facilities where licences are made, and limiting their validity to six years.
But Maine has failed to meet some of the act’s more controversial requirements, such as using facial recognition software at Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices and retaining digital scans of official documents, such as birth certificates, used to apply for a license. In addition, the state hasn’t started to use Homeland Security-approved security markings on ID cards.
The Maine secretary of state’s office estimates that it would cost about $1 million to comply with Real ID standards. It could take about six years to get the nearly 1 million valid Maine licenses upgraded to compliant identification, according to Kristen Muszynski, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office.
A review last October by Homeland Security found that “Maine has not committed to meeting all remaining requirements and has not provided adequate justification for continued noncompliance,” according to a letter from Alan Bersin and Philip McNamara, both assistant secretaries at the agency.
As a result, Homeland Security denied the state’s request for another year to comply before the agency started enforcing the law.
Bersin and McNamara wrote in their Oct. 11 letter that Maine could get a new extension if it demonstrates it is taking steps to get in line with unmet provisions of the law.
After speaking with Homeland Security officials, Diamond said he is convinced that Maine could get more time to comply if it repeals the 2007 law.
As Diamond’s bill wends its way through the Legislature, Maine’s noncompliance with Real ID already has caused headaches for Maine veterans who receive health care at the Pease Air National Guard Base in Newington, New Hampshire, and for Maine firefighters who attend an annual training at the National Fire Academy in Maryland.
Democratic Rep. Andrew McLean of Gorham, who is the House chairman of the Transportation Committee, said that the Legislature will act on compliance to ensure that veterans can access health care and that travelers can board airplanes.
“It hasn’t been on the front burner for a lot of states, and now we need to address it,” McLean said.
Many still are concerned about the state collecting documents and information that could be used by the federal government for reasons that have not been fully spelled out. While he understands those objections about the state collecting information, McLean said he isn’t convinced that Real ID is a significant privacy problem.
“The reality is that government and private industry already have a lot of the data that Real ID is going to need,” he said.