The governor of the first state to rebuke the federal government over plans to tighten driver’s license rules promised this week to work with the Department of Homeland Security to meet federal demands so residents won’t be singled out for an extra going-over at airports and federal buildings.
“We cannot allow that to happen to our citizens and we need to be able to make improvements for safety and security and at the same time make sure that Mainers are not penalized and Mainers are not inconvenienced,” Maine Gov. John Baldacci said Tuesday.
“I’m going to do everything I can do, that I have available to me to do, and have no problem committing to that.”
Maine, one of the leading opponents of the Real ID law, found itself all alone once again as the only state that failed to get an extension to comply with a new federal ID law.
The other holdouts — New Hampshire, Montana and South Carolina — all received extensions to adopt new standards. Without them, travelers could face added inconveniences as of May 11.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Baldacci discussed the Department of Homeland Security’s decision to give the state until 5 p.m. Wednesday — two days longer than the deadline met by the other states — to show it’s making progress toward meeting guidelines under the Real ID law.
In Maine, the DHS wants the state to stop issuing licenses to illegal aliens and take other specific steps to ensure that people who could pose a threat aren’t gaming Maine’s licensing laws to gain state credentials.
The line drawn in the sand only intensified criticism of the requirements.
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who is in charge of motor vehicle licensing, said DHS has “raised the bar repeatedly asking Maine to do things it’s not asking other states to do.”
And the Maine Civil Liberties Union’s executive director urged Baldacci and the Legislature to “stand firm in protecting the privacy, pocketbooks and security of Mainers in the face of these unreasonable demands.”
While rhetoric gained volume outside his State House office, Baldacci remained focused on his discussions with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
“I had a very good discussion with the secretary and his assistant,” Baldacci said. “They made some specific requests and I’m now making a plan to be able to comply with those requests and I’ll be getting back to them within the time period that he set forth.”
Baldacci acknowledged that he can’t make the Legislature agree to the DHS demands, and he also noted the recommended changes will cost millions of dollars.
“It’s going to be up to the full Legislature,” said Baldacci. “But given the facts, it’s my hope that the Legislature will recognize that we can’t have a family going off to Disney World, being set aside and going into a separate line because they happen to be from Maine.”
Asked if he thinks Maine is being singled out as the only state that’s not been granted a waiver or extension, Baldacci said, “I can’t make that determination.”
Politics were injected into the debate by the Maine Civil Liberties Union, which attacked Sen. Susan Collins for acting as an intermediary with the Department of Homeland Security.
The DHS “with the approval of Senator (Susan) Collins is proposing to punish thousands of Mainers for failure to comply with a law that no state is required to implement until 2014,” MCLU Executive Director Shenna Bellows said.
Collins, ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said through a spokeswoman that she has “consistently expressed concerns with the cost and the privacy implications of the Real ID.”
The real issue, Collins spokeswoman Jen Burita said, is whether Mainers will face massive airport delays and needless inconveniences if the state remains the only one not to get an extension.
“One of the big issues is whether illegal aliens should be allowed to get Maine driver’s license,” Burita added.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, who’s Collins re-election challenger in one of the nation’s most closely watched political races, is sponsoring a bill to repeal Real ID.
Asked if the issue has taken a sharply political turn, Baldacci brushed those questions aside. “I did not get that sense from Secretary Chertoff, that we were dealing with anything other than the issues around trying to enhance the protection around driver’s licenses,” he said.
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