First Official State Act Resisting Real ID Act Passes in Maine

Posted by Ronald London

Concerns regarding the Real ID Act have manifested themselves in Maine becoming the first state to express formal opposition to the federal legislation. The Real ID Act prohibits all federal agencies, starting May 2008, from accepting for any official purpose state-issued identifications unless they meet new federal standards, and effectively calls for creation of electronically readable, federally approved IDs for all individuals for purposes of air travel, banking, Social Security, and most government services. While state-issued driver licenses can be tailored to satisfy the statute, as a practical matter they would have to be re-issued in almost all cases in order to meet federal standards, which the Real ID Act gives the Department of Homeland Security the power to establish.

The criteria, which states must certify to the Homeland Security that their IDs meet, include that they bear the holder’s full legal name, signature, date of birth, gender, address of principle residence, and driver license or identification card number. To meet the federal standard, before issuing a driver’s license or ID, states must require the prospective holders to show a photo ID or other identity document that includes both their full legal name and date of birth, documentation showing date of birth, proof of social security number or verification of ineligibility for an SSN, and documentation showing name and address of principle residence. States are required to verify with the issuing agency each document required to be presented, and must confirm the SSN information with the Social Security Administration. The IDs also must include a digital photograph of the holder, physical security features that prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication, and a common machine-readable technology. Homeland Security has not yet adopted regulations to effectuate the requirement that the IDs be “machine-readable,” which could take the form of being a magnetic strip, an enhanced bar code or radio frequency identification (RFID) chips.

Yesterday, Maine’s legislature approved a resolution that rejects the federal requirements by stating the state “refuses to implement the REAL ID Act” and force its citizens to use driver’s licenses that comply with the federal law, and by calling on Congress to repeal it. The vote in the state legislature was nearly unanimous – 34-0 in the state Senate and 137-4 in the House – and accordingly was wholly nonpartisan. The resolution reflects that complying with the Act would cost the state $185 million over five years and require every state resident to visit the motor vehicle agency so the various documents required by the Act could be uploaded to a federal database. Other states, including Georgia, Massachusetts, Washington and Montana have similar measures under consideration. In Montana, this week saw a legislative hearing on a bill that says the state “will not participate in the implementation of the Real ID Act of 2005” and that directs the motor vehicle department “not to implement the provisions.”

Some observers expect that Congress, newly under Democratic control, will act to repeal or modify the law, and that the Maine vote will be a catalyst for other states to follow suit. Civil liberties watchdogs that oppose a national ID card surely would welcome such a development.