Stateline Story

Maine Gets 2 More Days For Real ID

(Updated 10:30 a.m. EDT, Tuesday, April 1)

Maine gets two more days to try to reach an agreement with federal officials on rules to make driver's licenses more secure and avoid extensive security screenings for its residents at airports and federal buildings beginning;May 11.

South Carolina won a last-minute reprieve on Monday (March 31) from the licensing deadline,;leaving Maine the only state at risk of running afoul of the;2005 Real ID;Act. The federal law is aimed at keeping driver's licenses out of the hands of terrorists and illegal aliens.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff so far has refused to grant;Maine a 19-month extension to begin meeting new federal rules on driver's license security, citing flaws in how the state issues driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

South Carolina and Maine are two of;six states that passed laws refusing to comply with Real ID. But South Carolina was given an extension because the state was "well on its way to meeting requirements comparable to those required by the final Real ID regulation," Chertoff said.

Late;Monday (March 31), the deadline for requesting an extension,;federal officials announced they were giving; Maine;until 5 p.m. Wednesday,;April 2, to negotiate an agreement.;Without a state extension, Maine residents will need passports to enter federal buildings or to fly commercially or be subjected to more security checks and longer lines in May.

"It will be the same as showing up at the airport without any identification," said DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa.

South Carolina, which had threatened a lawsuit over the federal rules, was granted an extension without officially requesting one. "The federal government should be interested in results, not words, and your letter offers results that will greatly improve South Carolina's driver's license security," Chertoff said in his letter to Gov. Mark Sanford (R). ;

Last week, the homeland security department also approved extensions for Montana and New Hampshire, two more states that have laws rejecting the driver's license rules, although governors of those states also said they weren't asking for one. Washington and Oklahoma also passed laws refusing to comply with Real ID, but both applied for and received extensions.

States have been riled about what they see as the federal government's heavy-handedness in pushing Real ID onto the states, and with it, the price tag, which at one time was estimated at $11 billion over five years. Under Real ID, states will have to verify the identity of all 245 million drivers and reissue new, more tamper-proof licenses. The measure was passed in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
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The law also requires motor vehicle departments to digitally store and share the information with other states. More recently, DHS has promoted Real ID as a way to crack down on illegal immigration and identity theft.
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Real ID is perceived by some as the slippery slope to a national ID card, while others have raised privacy concerns.

Earlier this month, governors and state lawmakers called on Congress and President Bush to set aside $1 billion to cover the up-front cost of Real ID, according to separate letters from the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures.
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Both groups argued that Congress has appropriated only $90 million for Real ID, while the latest cost estimate for complying with the law is $4 billion over 10 years. While NGA wants Congress to "fix and fund" Real ID, NCSL wants an outright repeal.
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(Click here for NCSL's "Countdown to Real ID" web page, including a database of state legislation).
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The 2005 law had originally set a May 11, 2008, deadline for revamping states licenses. DHS pushed back the deadline to Dec. 31, 2009, and gave the states until March 31 to ask for a compliance extension.
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Montana, the first state to revolt against the program, got word on March 21 that it received an extension from DHS, even though the governor says the state didn't ask for one.
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Montana explained in its March 21 letter to DHS that it has already beefed up its state driver's licenses procedures, including using digital photography to ensure that applicants do not have more than one license. DHS said such efforts put Montana on track to meet Real ID requirements and awarded the state an extension.
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Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) told Wired News , a daily technology news site, "I sent them a horse and if they want to call it a zebra, that's up to them," adding that if he were writing the headline, it would be "DHS Blinks."
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DHS also approved an extension for New Hampshire last week after denying an earlier request, which said plainly that the state had no intention of complying with the law.

Similarly, South Carolina's Sanford sent a letter March 31 to DHS detailing the state's efforts to make licensing more secure, while reiterating that his state was bound not to comply and registering his personal opposition to the law.

Although Maine Gov. John Baldacci (D) March 25 outlined for DHS the steps the state has made to make driver's licenses safer, including partially meeting 10 of the law's 18 benchmarks. But the federal agency rejected the Maine's appeals because the state does not require license applicants to prove that they are in the country legally..

"Without a residency requirement, the state is offering an open invitation to illegal aliens to seek Maine credentials," DHS wrote in its March 31 letter to Baldacci.
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But even states that earlier applied for the extension don't necessarily intend to meet the law's demands. The California Department of Motor Vehicles, for example,;sent a March 18 letter to DHS, saying: "California's request for an extension is not a commitment to implementation of REAL ID, rather it will allow us to fully evaluate the impact of the final regulations … prior to a final decision on compliance."
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Likewise, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) told Stateline.org that the extension leaves the state's options open. Georgia passed a 2007 law, giving the governor authority to ignore Real ID if it turned out to be too costly.
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Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R) also said that her state was not committing to Real ID simply by asking for the extension.
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DHS has already given states a break announcing it allow another;five years to comply with Real ID under regulations issued this past January that cut the cost and gave states more flexibility.
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Key lawmakers on Capitol Hill also continue to question the law, which received no hearings, was attached to an emergency funding bill and passed overwhelmingly by the then Republican-controlled Congress. Bills since introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives would repeal the act, but have not advanced past committees.
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Eight U.S. senators recently sent a scathing letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, asking that all states be given an exemption until the end of next year. The agency rejected the request on March 21.
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Tim Sparapani, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, is not convinced that DHS really will enforce the law: There is no sign that the federal Transportation Security Administration, which handles airport security, is hiring the extra security personnel for;airports that could need stepped-up security checks in May, he said.
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David Quam, NGA's chief lobbyist, said states and the federal government are at an important crossroads. "We're at a fork in the road. If we go one direction, the states and federal government can work together to get this done, and if we go the other direction, it will be much more difficult."