October 22, 2018
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Feds give Maine last reprieve from Real ID compliance

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN

The federal government has granted Maine a final waiver from complying with the requirements of a 13-year-old law regulating state-issued identification.

The waiver comes as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security takes the final steps to implement Real ID nationwide. That waiver is valid through Oct. 10, 2019, but Homeland Security will not enforce Real ID until Oct. 1, 2020, according to the Maine secretary of state’s office. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap requested the waiver back in August.

In a letter to Dunlap’s office, Elizabeth Neumann, an assistant secretary with Homeland Security, said Maine was granted the additional reprieve as the state has demonstrated it is now taking steps to meet unmet requirements under Real ID.

“In granting this extension, I stress the importance of Maine using the additional time to satisfy any unmet requirements,” Neumann wrote.

“Failure to demonstrate progress in [quarterly] reviews could result in the revocation of your extension and subject Maine residents to federal enforcement of the REAL ID Act and regulation,” she wrote.

With that extended waiver, Maine driver’s licenses will continue to be accepted as valid identification for entrance into certain secure federal facilities, such as military bases, Homeland Security headquarters and nuclear plants, as well as for boarding commercial aircraft for domestic flights.

Maine is among 17 states and five U.S. territories technically not compliant with Real ID but have been granted additional time to meet its requirements, according to Homeland Security. The remaining states have been certified as compliant by Homeland Security.

The penalties for not complying are potentially high. Travelers who want to board domestic flights must present compliant identification, and those with noncompliant identification would need to use an accepted alternative, such as a U.S. passport or passport card, to travel across the country by air.

The Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles will issue Real ID-compliant licenses and identification starting next July. Mainers who want to apply for a Real ID license will need to provide a birth certificate (a copy of which will remain on file with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles) or other proof of legal residency, and submit to a photograph taken with facial recognition technology, according to Dunlap’s office.

Mainers will be allowed to opt out, but will need to present passport or other accepted alternative identification for federal purposes, such as boarding commercial domestic flights.

[Yes, you can still use your Maine driver’s license to board an airplane]

Real ID emerged in 2005 among a slew of legislation to address national security concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it was one of the key recommendations in the 9/11 Commission Report.

The Real ID Act set national standards to improve the security of state-issued identification to prevent undocumented immigrants and terrorists from obtaining U.S. driver’s licenses. Several of the 9/11 hijackers had obtained state-issued driver’s licenses in the months leading up to the attacks.

Those requirements include using facial recognition software at Bureau of Motor Vehicles offices, fingerprinting Bureau of Motor Vehicles employees and Homeland Security-approved security markings on ID cards, among other standards.

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.”

The state’s protest reached a dramatic point in October 2016, when Homeland Security denied Maine’s request for a renewal of its waiver from Real ID enforcement over its continued noncompliance. That left Maine residents subject to enforcement after Jan. 30, 2017, when the federal government stopped accepting Maine driver’s licenses as valid identification for entering military bases.

It set off a legislative debate that ended in April 2017 with the passage of a bill, LD 306, to grant Dunlap the authority to bring the state into compliance. That law gives Dunlap’s office until July 1, 2019, to meet the requirements of Real ID.

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