Maine carpenters have been turned away from work at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. Military veterans from Maine were told not to seek health care at the shipyard’s hospital because they will be denied entry. Starting next year, Maine residents are on track to be barred from domestic flights if they don’t have a passport or passport card.
The federal government’s repeated warnings, over the course of many years, are coming true. Maine driver’s licenses are no longer considered acceptable identification for some purposes because Maine is among a handful of states that have not complied with the requirements of Real ID.
There are many problems with the Real ID Act of 2005, especially privacy concerns, but Maine must begin complying with the law.
The Legislature’s Transportation Committee last week signed off on a bill to do so, LD 306, with the caveat that Maine residents can opt out of a Real ID-compliant license. Other states have done this. The bill will soon face votes in the House and Senate.
Maine has long had a principled argument to make for not complying with the federal government’s Real ID program, especially because of concerns about the privacy of information that must be shared with and stored by the federal government. We supported that position. More than a decade after the law’s implementation, however, it is becoming clear that Maine residents are being punished because their driver’s licenses don’t meet the standards set out in the federal law. Maine was denied an extension in October to comply with the law.
The consequences of the state’s non-compliance are real. Robert Burleigh, who represents the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners in northern New England, told Transportation Committee members that carpenters with Maine driver’s licenses had been turned away at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard because their IDs did not meet federal requirements. This deprives Maine workers of income and makes it more difficult for contractors to complete jobs at the shipyard.
In a recent Bangor Daily News letter to the editor, Chuck Theriault of Medway wrote that he traveled to the Portsmouth shipyard for work but was unable to obtain the required ID badge to enter the facility. “I have for nearly 40 years used my license for work ID without a problem. … But I had no recourse except to drive back home with no work and at a cost to me,” he wrote.
Teresa Sadak of Raymond worries she won’t be able to visit her son at the naval base where he is stationed in Mississippi.
Maine lawmakers in 2007 passed a law barring the state from complying with Real ID. Despite this refusal, the state did make needed improvements to the licensing process, including requiring documentation to prove that license applicants were in the U.S. legally and resided in Maine.
But the state has failed to meet some of the Real ID Act’s more controversial requirements, such as using facial recognition software at Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices and fingerprinting Bureau of Motor Vehicles employees. In addition, the state hasn’t started to use Homeland Security-approved security markings on ID cards.
The state’s arguments against the law remain valid, but reality — the fact that Maine residents are facing real consequences and inconveniences — demands that, in the absence of movement by Congress to change the law’s requirements or movement by the Department of Homeland Security to again extend compliance deadlines, Maine should join other states in moving forward with upgrades to driver’s licenses to comply with federal standards.