AUGUSTA, Maine — A Maine legislative committee neared a deal on Thursday that would bring the state into compliance with a federal identification program that the state has spurned for a decade over privacy concerns.
The proposal has been fought by Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who has aimed to preserve a 2007 law that bars the state from complying with the federal REAL ID Act. In January, the federal government stopped accepting Maine driver’s licenses at certain facilities, including military bases.
Maine has implemented many provisions of REAL ID, a program that standardized licenses as a response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But it’s one of five states in non-compliance, having balked at controversial data warehousing requirements in the law, such as using facial recognition software in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and fingerprinting bureau employees.
On Thursday, some on the Legislature’s Transportation Committee indicated support for a bill from Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, that would implement the program with amendments allowing residents to opt out and set fees for REAL ID licenses at $55 compared to $35 for a normal license, but the committee delayed a vote amid uncertainty around an effective date of compliance.
They’re in a bind because Maine’s position will be even worse come January 2018, when licenses won’t be accepted by airlines for boarding domestic flights, although passports or passport cards will be valid.
In the committee room, Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, said lawmakers had a choice to “take civil liberties away” or “throw our constituents under the bus” by making travel and access to federal facilities more difficult. He said the situation is “a real mess,” but backed the bill.
“I feel better with giving our constituents the ability to opt out,” Parry said.
But civil liberties advocates were pushing different approaches on Thursday: Sens. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, and Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Thursday asking him to issue an executive order “to preserve the safety and liberty of all Americans” and repeal REAL ID’s data warehousing provisions.
Dunlap, a Democrat, supported that approach, saying Maine would be in compliance with the law if Trump took that action, saying, “Once you start complying, you don’t know what the purposes will then be designated for or what additional requirements may come down the road.”
But Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, was more blunt in the committee room, suggesting that the Legislature provide funding for low-income families to buy passport cards in the interim and “push back” against REAL ID amid “veiled threats” from the federal government.
The Legislature also has given initial approval to a bill from Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, that would fund passport cards for veterans who get health care at Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire, but it awaits funding before final passage.