AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted Friday to bring Maine identification cards into compliance with federal Real ID requirements while allowing drivers to opt out of the enhanced security features that critics contend are unconstitutional.

Members of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee voted 12-1 to endorse a bill that aims to address concerns that Maine residents will be unable to board planes or enter federal buildings with only their driver’s licenses, beginning in January. Some veterans, truck drivers and contractors already are being turned away from federal facilities such as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery because Maine’s driver’s license does not meet the federal standards.

The bill, L.D. 306, would repeal a state law prohibiting Maine from complying with the federal Real ID requirement – passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks – that established minimum security standards for state-issued identification cards.

“Mainers expect those of us in elected office to work together to solve the problems they face,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, the former Maine secretary of state who sponsored the bill. “We cannot sit idly by while Mainers are burdened with an unnecessary bureaucratic nightmare when the solution is so simple. I’m grateful for the committee’s work, and look forward to seeing this bill enacted so that Maine residents and businesses can get on with their lives.”

The measure won broader committee support after it was amended to include an opt-out clause, essentially requiring the Maine Secretary of State’s Office to continue offering the current driver’s license along with a Real ID-compliant card. Anyone who declines a Real ID would need a passport or passport card to board a commercial airliner or enter many federal buildings.

But the opt-out clause was not enough to satisfy opponents who are concerned about privacy, constitutionality and the estimated $2.4 million cost of implementing Real ID over the next two years.

PRIVACY ISSUES

“I’m very concerned the bill that just passed the committee would force the state to spend millions of dollars on a one-stop shop for data thieves,” said Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester.

The bill now goes to the full House and Senate for debate and votes.

Maine is one of a handful of states that have refused to comply with the Real ID law and not received extended waivers from the federal government. Federal officials insist that the additional requirements – including digitized images of the card holder as well as federal access to a database of birth certificates and photographs – are necessary to help thwart terrorism. Although it’s a voluntary program, states are under pressure to adopt the Real ID requirements because state-issued driver’s licenses have become the de facto form of ID used to get through airport security.

Maine lawmakers also are coming under pressure from members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, wrote to legislative leaders this month after hearing about Maine veterans who could not access health care on military bases or firefighters who couldn’t train at federal facilities. Poliquin told the lawmakers that the state is in a “dire situation” and that Diamond’s bill is a “common sense step forward.”

Rep. Wayne Parry, R-Arundel, said he has long opposed Real ID, but the opt-out clause gave him enough comfort to support Diamond’s bill.

“I think this gives every single resident of the state of Maine the option,” Parry said. “If they want to get one of these IDs, they can. And if they don’t want to get one of these IDs, they don’t have to.”

But civil liberties groups have suggested that Real ID infringes on residents’ privacy rights and that the data accessible to the government could be misused.

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who opposed Diamond’s bill, said the inclusion of an opt-out clause could reflects growing concerns about privacy, especially after the recent data breach of the JobLink program used by the Maine Department of Labor. As many as 283,000 Maine records containing social security numbers, dates of birth and other personal information may have been compromised when a hacker gained access to the system operated by a national contractor, America’s JobLink.

Real ID would require the state to maintain even more sensitive documents, including copies of birth certificates. Dunlap said there are plenty of examples in American history – from FBI investigations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to blacklisting of suspected communists under McCarthyism – of the federal government spying on its own citizens. And the Department of Homeland Security would be able to change the Real ID rules without any notice, he said.

“I have gotten a lot more feedback from the public telling me to stand my ground than from people telling me to get over it,” Dunlap said.

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine also have raised concerns about the constitutionality of the Real ID program, predicting the transition to a new driver’s license in Maine will carry a high price without making residents any safer.

Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, cast the solitary “no” vote in committee and urged her legislative colleagues to consider “how much government intrusion into our lives that we will tolerate.” Grant pointed to the recent JobLink data breach as evidence that the government cannot ensure citizens that their sensitive, personal information will be safe.

Instead, Grant wanted Maine to continue seeking a waiver from the Real ID requirements while creating a fund – in lieu of money that would have been spent on a Real ID system – to help some Mainers cover the costs of acquiring passports or passport cards.

“The federal government is bullying us and telling us about how we are going to establish our driver’s licenses, and we are going to accept that?” Grant said. “We didn’t accept it before. And I think our federal delegation should do their job and not leave it up to us.”

Dunlap acknowledged said he fully expects that his department would be able to implement Real ID efficiently and effectively but likely at a cost of $2 million to $3 million. License fees would rise $20 to $25 for Real ID-compliant licenses under Diamond’s amended bill. But Dunlap said congressional inaction to change the controversial Real ID rules have put Maine and other states in a difficult situation.

“When people can’t board planes, they’re not going to blame Congress,” Dunlap said. “They are going to blame the Maine Legislature and the secretary of state.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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