AUGUSTA — Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, is at the center of a debate that affects everyone with a Maine driver’s license, and he has bipartisan support from fellow legislators and Maine’s governor. 

That debate is over the Real ID Act, a federal law passed by Congress 12 years ago that sets security standards for state driver’s licenses. 

“It would rain chaos on our citizens if we turned our back on this and walked away,” Diamond said in an interview at the State House. 

Not only has Maine never implemented the Real ID law, the Legislature went a step further in 2007 by establishing in statute that Maine would not comply with it because of concerns about privacy and cost. For years, that wasn’t much of an  issue for Maine license holders because the Department of Homeland Security, which enforces the Real ID law, has given states like Maine waivers to delay implementation. 

That all changed last year, when DHS announced that it would be stepping up Real ID enforcement. According to the DHS, Maine is one of only four states that is listed as non-compliant. That means that as of Jan. 30 of this year, Maine licenses are no longer being accepted as forms of identification at certain federal facilities such as military bases.

Without action from the Legislature or changes to the Real ID law at the national level, Maine licenses won’t be accepted forms of identification at airports starting in January 2018. Any Maine resident looking to fly after that time would need an alternate form of identification, such as a passport. 

Enter Diamond, former Maine Secretary of State, who has introduced a bill that would repeal Maine’s law against Real ID compliance and compel the Maine Secretary of State’s Office to begin the process of implementing the federal law. 

“To me, it was going to be chaos for the citizens of Maine. I couldn’t stand by and watch that happen,” said Diamond about the decision to introduce his Real ID bill. “I think we’ve got 10 years of extensions, and nothing much was done during that time, so we had no choice, we had to act.” 

Diamond’s bill, LD 306, has a bipartisan list of co-sponsors, including Rep. Rich Cebra, R-Naples, and has the backing of Maine’s chief executive. 

“While there appear to be reasonable arguments on both sides of the Real ID debate, due to the federal insistence on enforcing its harsh terms, and a complete lack of interest or perhaps will in Congress to amend or repeal the Real ID Act, I believe we, as elected state officials, must unite in going forward with implementation,” Gov. Paul LePage in a March 30 press release. 

Diamond said that support from LePage, a Republican, along with support of legislative leaders, helps the chances that his legislation will pass and start the process of implementing Real ID in Maine. 

Opponents of the Diamond’s bill, however, argue that Maine should hold the line against what they see as federal overreach through Real ID, and say that compliance with the law would be expensive and raises serious privacy concerns because of the personal information it would make available to the federal government. 

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a vocal critic of the Real ID Act since it was passed in 2005, submitted testimony to the transportation committee against Diamond’s legislation outlining his opposition to both Real ID and LD 306. 

In an interview, Dunlap, a Democrat, estimated that the cost of implementing Real ID in Maine could run as much as $3 million. He says that the state would need to upgrade to facial recognition technology, change the timing of when the Bureau of Motor Vehicles would take the license photo, and start to take images of people’s personal documentation that proves they are in the U.S. legally. Currently, Dunlap says, proof of someone’s legal U.S. presence, such as a birth certificate or passport, must be shown but is not kept on file. 

“My opposition to the legislation has been based in a couple of things: first, it’s very expensive,” said Dunlap. 

Dunlap argued that Real ID doesn’t actually fulfill its intended purpose of bolstering homeland security. What also seems to have him worried is the unknown of how the federal government would use that additional information from the birth certificate and facial recognition moving forward.  

“In a very fundamental sense, Real ID does nothing. It doesn’t work. What it does do is make American citizens surrender all of their private information into an aggregated database that the federal government is going to have complete control over,” Dunlap continued. 

In an attempt to address some of the privacy concerns raised by Dunlap and others, Diamond said he asked the Transportation Committee to add an amendment to his bill that allows individual Mainer to opt out and not participate in Real ID if they have privacy concerns. In that case, Mainers would need to use a passport or other document to fly or access federal facilities, rather than their Maine license. 

The committee did add that amendment, Diamond says, and reported out his amended bill with a 12-1 recommendation that it be passed by the full legislature. The Senate voted 31-4 on April 6 to pass the bill, which will now go to the House. for a vote.  Diamond said in an email that the House vote could happen as soon as this coming Tuesday. 

“As a co-sponsor of the bill, as well as a member of the Transportation committee in Augusta, I am very satisfied with the amended version of the bill,” said Rep. Cebra. “The amended version that will be voted on in the full legislature provides not only a fix for this real ID mess, but it also takes citizens concerns into account, providing an option to purchase a license that is not real ID compliant. This compromise should work for a vast majority of Mainers.”

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, during a legislative hearing in Augusta.

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