Saying veterans and other Mainers are already being denied access to federal facilities because the state hasn’t complied with the federal Real ID law, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is urging state lawmakers to move quickly to require more personal data on Maine driver’s licenses.

In its current form, a Maine’s driver’s license will no longer be accepted as identification for interstate air travel starting in 2018, but changes in federal law concerning identification already have affected veterans and other Mainers who are being denied entry to federal facilities, including military bases.

Poliquin, a Republican representing the 2nd District, said Maine’s non-compliance with the Real ID law has created a “dire situation.”

“Maine-issued driver’s licenses are increasingly no longer acceptable forms of identification to access federal buildings and facilities,” Poliquin wrote in a letter to State House leaders. “My office has received news that Maine businesses are suffering because their employees cannot access federal job sites. First responders, including our Maine firefighters, are not able to attend training at federal facilities. Our veterans cannot access health care facilities located on military bases.”

A U.S. passport, military identification card or a passport card, like the ones used for ground travel between the U.S. and Canada, are acceptable in lieu of the federally approved driver’s license.

Maine is among only five states not in compliance with the federal law. Privacy advocates in Maine, including Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, are opposed to the change, saying the federal government’s effort to create a national identification system is an overreach. As secretary of state, Dunlap oversees state elections and the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

To comply with the federal law, Maine would need to make changes to photos and require fingerprinting and background checks for state employees who process driver’s licenses.

Dunlap has said Congress needs to revisit the law because it puts consolidated personal data at risk of exposure and has little impact on terrorism or illegal immigration.

It would cost Maine an estimated $1 million to $3 million annually to comply with Real ID standards, which use new technologies for facial recognition and fingerprinting. The law requires states to keep scans of official documents such as birth certificates that are used to prove identity or citizenship when applying for identification.

Dunlap said opponents don’t trust the federal government’s ability to protect private and personal identifying information in its possession.

“This is a tightly aggregated set of data on every single citizen,” Dunlap has said. “That Eastern European show-me-your-papers-at-the-border thing, that really turned people off.”

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a former secretary of state, has sponsored a bill that would move Maine toward compliance. The bill, which would phase in the Real ID requirements over an extended period of time, has been referred to the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. It has jurisdiction over the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which issues driver’s licenses and state identification cards.

Gov. Paul LePage also has urged the Legislature to move quickly to conform with federal law by supporting Diamond’s bill.

“I understand that there are some who are not in favor of Real ID,” the Republican wrote in a letter dated March 2, “but I believe that a core mission of government should be facilitating transportation and commerce.”

In his letter, LePage notes that Mainers already are being affected by the federal law.

“Our veterans are not being allowed to access clinics located on the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and thus cannot get the care they need,” he wrote. “Our truck drivers are being turned away from facilities owned and operated by the Department of Defense. State Fire Marshal deputies are not allowed to enter the National Fire Academy without passports. I anticipate that issues such as these will get much worse.”

In his letter, Poliquin also suggests that if the Legislature passes a law aimed at compliance, the federal government might allow Maine more time to meet the requirements.

“Together, we can work to ensure Maine receives an extension for compliance with this law by addressing the Department of Homeland Security’s concerns regarding the current outstanding requirements,” Poliquin wrote. “We can all agree that our utmost priority is to ensure that all Mainers are able to access federal facilities with their Maine-issued driver’s licenses.”

A public hearing on Diamond’s bill has been scheduled for Tuesday at the State House.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

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