AUGUSTA — Now that the Real ID bill introduced by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, has been signed into law, Mainers will be able once again to enter VA hospitals and federal office buildings using their driver’s licenses as valid ID.

The new state law signed on April 28 sets Maine on a path to compliance with the 2005 federal Real ID law that established security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses.

By passing Diamond’s legislation into law, Maine has likely averted an escalating showdown with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which had already begun cracking down on the state for past unwillingness to implement Real ID. 

“We dodged a bullet with this law,” Diamond said in a press release. 

The new state law comes as Maine driver’s licenses have already stopped being accepted as valid forms of identification as of January 2017 at some federal facilities, such as military bases and Veterans Administration facilities. If the state had not acted, Maine driver’s licences were scheduled to no longer be accepted as valid identification at airport security starting in January 2018. 

Diamond said in an interview that DHS officials assured him that if the bill became law, Maine would quickly be granted a waiver. Under that waiver, Maine’s non-Real ID compliant licenses would again be accepted at federal facilities and continue to be accepted at airports past January 2018 as the state works to create licenses that are compliant. 

Gov. Paul LePage has also said that the state was given assurances about a waiver. 

“As we work on this process, we have been reassured Maine will be extended a waiver to allow residents to continue using non-compliant ID cards beyond January 2018,” LePage said in a statement after signing the bill into law.

One constant voice against Real ID compliance has been Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who has expressed concerns about the personal privacy implications and the cost of implementing Real ID in Maine. The Secretary of State’s Office oversees the issuance of Maine driver’s licenses. 

Now that Diamond’s bill has been signed into law, Dunlap’s office is tasked with implementing Real ID in Maine by July 2019. 

The director of communications for the Secretary of State’s Office, Kristen Muszynski, clarified that as of May 2, the state had not yet received official word from DHS about a waiver and that until the waiver is granted, Maine licenses are still not being accepted at military bases and some other federal facilities.  

However, she also said the state is expected to receive a waiver and that the Secretary of State’s Office is moving towards Real ID compliance, a process that will likely include new facial recognition software and a new record keeping process where the office will have to keep copies of some personal documents. 

“It gets a little complicated going forward,” said Muszynski. “It’s going to take some time to get that system up and running.” 

Muszynski also said that implementation is estimated to cost somewhere between $2.2 and $3 million. 

Once Maine fully implements the requirements and has Real ID compliant driver’s licenses, Maine people with an older, non-compliant license will need to get a new one by January 2020 if they want to use their Maine driver’s license to get through airport security or enter federal facilities. 

As provided in Diamond’s bill, anyone who wants to opt-out of the Real ID system once its implemented because of privacy concerns can keep their non-Real ID compliant license. However, those who opt-out will need another form of identification, such as a passport, to fly or access federal buildings. 

The Secretary of State’s website includes more information on the Real ID process moving forward. 

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

Sen. Bill Diamond