Possible Maine Fix on Real ID National License Stirs Debate

Gov. John Baldacci’s decision to seek changes in Maine’s driver’s license standards to satisfy federal officials’ demands has cranked up the volume of public debate in Maine and beyond over the government’s Real ID program.

The law aimed at making state-issued licenses more secure, already fodder in Maine political campaigns, has drawn comments of support and disdain within the state and was the subject of a report on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight last week. The coming days promise to bring more commentary.

Last Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security granted Maine an extension to comply with Real ID driver’s license security requirements, making it the final state to get a breather.

The extension, which allows Maine drivers licenses to remain an accepted form of identification at airports and federal facilities after May 11, was given only after Baldacci agreed to submit legislation to address shortcomings cited by the government in moving toward Real ID compliance.

Maine has a state law forbidding compliance with Real ID, yet it requires neither proof of citizenship nor residency from license applicants.

On Monday, several groups will raise their voices about Baldacci’s plan at a State House news conference announced by the Maine Civil Liberties Union, which has already expressed its outrage. The groups include the Roman Catholic Diocese, immigration and civil rights groups.

Baldacci had barely announced his intentions last Wednesday before the MCLU filed a public records request with his office for internal records leading up to his decision which, in the MCLU’s view, violates Maine law.

“Real ID is a threat to Mainers’ privacy, security and pocketbooks,” said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the MCLU, which promised to make public the records it receives.

Meanwhile, Republican legislative leaders said they “strongly endorse” the Democratic governor’s promise to stop the issuing of licenses to illegal aliens, a practice they called a threat to national security that also worsens the problem of identity theft.

“Our policy of giving licenses to people who sneak into the country in violation of federal law has made a mockery of license security,” said House GOP Leader Josh Tardy of Newport. “There is a clear need to establish minimum license standards across the country to reduce our vulnerability to fraud by terrorists, identity thieves and illegal aliens.”

His views were echoed by Dean Scontras, who has made the issue a cornerstone of his campaign for the Republican nomination in the 1st District congressional race.

U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, a Democrat who is vacating his House seat to run for the Senate, issued a statement after Maine was granted an extension last week calling on Congress “to show leadership, scrap this unworkable law and establish a system that will protect Americans’ security without trampling on their civil liberties and forcing states to pick up the cost.”

Allen, sponsor of a bill to repeal Real ID, has highlighted his differences on the subject with Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican he wants to unseat. Collins, ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, encouraged Maine officials to comply with Real ID.

Second District Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud issued a statement saying that while he’s pleased DHS granted Maine’s extension, he opposed the Real ID Act when it was before Congress.

“During a time when state budgets are stretched incredibly thin, the federal government must stand ready and willing to work with states like Maine,” said Michaud.

On the Lou Dobbs program last week, Maine House Speaker Glenn Cummings raised doubts Baldacci’s proposed license fix will go over well in the State House.

“The state Bureau of Motor Vehicles is not the place to be enforcing federal immigration policy,” the Portland Democrat said. “It is the job of the federal government and it is a job they should be doing.”

Dobbs, in the same transcript, said Baldacci “is playing games” and “whole Legislature is playing games.”