Gov. John Baldacci signed into law a bill to tighten standards for getting a Maine driver’s license, acknowledging that the measures were a tough issue for lawmakers.
Under pressure for the federal government, Baldacci wasted little time before signing the bill after the Senate approved it by a 19-15 vote despite criticism from civil libertarians.
With the bill’s enactment, Maine joins 44 other states, including the rest of New England, in making proof of legal U.S. residency a requirement for getting a driver’s license, the governor said. Previously, the state did not require any proof of residency in the state, legal or otherwise.
The federal Department of Homeland Security has been pressing to bring states into compliance with the Real ID Act of 2005.
But the Maine legislature last year overwhelmingly passed a law barring compliance with the federal Real ID. Critics argued that it would unfairly single out immigrants while eroding everyone’s privacy rights.
The governor said the new measure helps ensure residents won’t be put through extra security screening when they board airplanes or go to federal buildings.
But he said it doesn’t contain all of the controversial requirements of the federal Real ID program, including a requirement that the state share its driver’s license information with a federal database.
“This was a difficult issue for many people in the Legislature,” Baldacci said in a statement. “But we have done the right thing. The laws regarding Maine’s driver’s licenses have been too lax.”
After winning barely enough votes in the House on Wednesday to pass, the bill gained momentum when lawmakers stripped away a provision that called for 50 percent increases in driver’s license fees to pay for the licensing changes.
“They made a bad bill better, but not good enough,” said Shenna Bellows, executive director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, which lobbied hard against passage.
Among other things, the measure requires that a Maine driver’s license issued to someone holding a visa must expire on the same day as the visa does.
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