Gov. John Baldacci’s legislation offering a compromise to federal authorities on the Real ID law is expected to generate heated debate later this week in the State House.

Many legislators have complained about the cost implementing the program would impose on the state, while civil libertarians have objected to a program they believe creates a national ID card and jeopardizes personal privacy.

Although these concerns are important for consideration, the state’s opposition to this program so far has been difficult to understand. In voting first to oppose the program and then waiting until the last minute to ask for an extension to implement it, Maine has gone much further in its opposition than any other state in the country.

The state’s tactics prompted a rebuke from federal authorities at the Department of Homeland Security, who were at one point this winter threatening to keep every resident in the state off airplanes as of May 11. While that tactic may have been a bit heavy handed, the state’s decision to wait until the last moment to file for an extension was clearly gamesmanship, as well.

The feds granted Maine an extension only after Baldacci agreed to back the legislation that will be debated in the State House later this week. That legislation, which would force those applying for driver’s licenses to provide proof of residency, is a reasonable compromise and ends a standoff caused by the state’s unreasonably strident opposition to the law.

Considering driver’s licenses are already effectively a national ID, setting federal standards is perfectly appropriate and necessary for our security. Maine’s current requirements for obtaining a driver’s license are far too lenient and leave plenty of room to obtain a license illegally. If terrorists can come to Maine and obtain a license, how are we supposed to keep them off airplanes?

Some opposed to the law believe the Real ID is simply another way to clamp down on illegal immigration. While that’s undoubtedly an objective of the law, the best place for setting national immigration policy is Washington, D.C., not Augusta.

Civil libertarians argue Real ID constitutes an invasion of personal privacy. However, the standards put in place by the Real ID law are no more an invasion than what is already required to own a driver’s license. All of our information is already stored in a database. Simply standardizing what information is held there shouldn’t make anyone more or less comfortable with it.

All those in the process of receiving a new debit or credit card because they happened to make a purchase at Hannaford this winter knows the real threat to our privacy and security comes from the private – not the public – sector. Unfortunately, in this electronic age, there are many databases with private information about all of us.

Finally, detractors of the federal law complain about the cost it will impose on the state through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. That led the Transportation Committee to change the governor’s funding source for the program by increasing the fee for renewing or getting a new license from $30 to $45 for non-commercial licenses.

Fine. If that’s what it takes to get the state moving toward a constructive solution to this problem and away from a territorial standoff over threats real and imagined, then so be it. It’s time to move this debate forward, because it’s clear Maine isn’t leading a revolution to overturn the Real ID law. It’s simply being obstructionist and isolationist.

Brendan Moran, editor


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