Friday, April 4, 2008

A reprieve for Real I.D.

We mentioned it the other day. Maine blinked. Gov. John Baldacci has agreed to send legislation this session to the Legislature tightening up the requirements to get a driver’s license in Maine. As it stands now, thanks to a Baldacci Executive Order, anyone can get a license in this state with virtually no questions asked, except those on the test.

As a result there are several licenses issued with the applicants using 999-99-9999 as their Social Security numbers. How many of these were illegal immigrants we do not know, but it might be safe to assume that nearly all of them were. What is so important about the driver’s license? It opens many, many doors as legal identification. Want to join MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid? The license is identification as it is also for about any other form of welfare benefits in this state.

The Federal Government in the form of the Office of Homeland Security has called for a new form of identification called Read I.D. It set specific guidelines to states to conform to Real ID. and a date by which states had to indicate they would conform or seek an extension. Some state’s didn’t like the idea of Real ID. and got permission to alter their own issued driver’s licenses. Others said they would join the program. A small few indicated they would not participate.

Four states, Maine included, held out almost to the end. Before the March 31st deadline, however, all but Maine had received extensions. Maine alone was facing the wrath of the federal government. One problem in our state was a law enacted by the Legislature and signed by the governor that prohibited Maine from participating.

Maine was notified just before the deadline that failure to conform would mean that Maine drivers’ licenses would not be accepted as identification to board airplanes or enter federal buildings after the first of May. We would have to provide other forms of ID and undergo closer scrutiny and background checks resulting in longer delays. Gov. Baldacci sent a letter asking that the Feds reconsider their special treatment of Mainers.

In response, the Office of Homeland Security set five conditions Maine must meet: receivers must be legal residents, immigrant documents must be checked with a federal database, any licenses issued to legal non-residents must be set to expire when the legal status ends, license photographs must be taken at the beginning of the license process instead of the end, and facial recognition software must be installed to prevent a person from getting multiple licenses under different names.

When Gov. Baldacci answered the conditions, he said he would submit legislation this session to change Maine’s law to meet them. But, he pointed out, the Legislature isn’t in session much longer and he wasn’t sure that the Legislature had time to act in the short time remaining and it could be the next session that begins in December before any final action could take place.

The letter worked. The Feds granted an extension into next year to give the lawmakers time to meet the requirements. The governor indicates he is preparing the law now. It is unclear to me as I haven’t read nor heard why the simple cancellation of that Executive Order wouldn’t have accomplished nearly the same thing.

It’s not a done deal. There is opposition both by some Democrats in the Legislature and the MCLU and it will be interesting to follow. The Republicans in the Legislature has praised the efforts of the Democrat governor in getting the situation resolved.

But, at least for now, Mainers travelling via air will not be treated any differently from their fellow travelers.

I don’t live in Portland, but the City Government axed 98 jobs today, including two department heads, Transportation and Recreation. Dropping revenues and increased expenses were given as the reason.


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