House kills tough requirement for driver’s license


Effort to crack down on illegal immigrants receiving state IDs falls short.

AUGUSTA – The state House of Representatives on Tuesday killed a proposal that would have required people seeking a Maine driver’s license to prove they are U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Speaking in favor of the amendment, Rep. Ronald Collins, R-Wells, said that a driver’s license has become a form of national identification that is required to board an airplane or travel around the country. People in the country illegally, he said, should not be granted such identification as a matter of national security.

“The whole premise of this legislation was to prevent a potential terrorist from getting a Maine driver’s license,” Collins said.

Rep. William Browne, R-Vassalboro, called the measure common sense, saying that people in the country illegally shouldn’t be able to get a driver’s license.

“Most people back home assume this is the law, that you either have to be a citizen or a legal resident to get a driver’s license,” said Collins, who sponsored the amendment.

Opponents of the bill countered that it duplicates existing state law, unnecessarily turns employees of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles into immigration officers, exposes the state to lawsuits claiming discrimination and is an issue best dealt with on the national level.

“This truly is a federal issue,” said Rep. Boyd Marley, D-Portland.

According to Marley, the state already requires applicants for new driver’s licenses to present either a Social Security card or a letter from the Social Security Administration explaining why they are not eligible for a Social Security number.

Saying there are more than 60 ways for people to be in the country legally and pointing to the difficulty of determining someone’s legal status, Marley said that delays at BMV offices could become terrible as employees try to figure out whether to grant someone a driver’s license.

The Real ID Act, which became law in 2005, requires states to meet federal standards for issuing a driver’s license by 2008.

“This very thing is going to take place after the implementation of the Real ID Act,” Collins said. “We’re trying to fill the gap for the next two-year span. We’re going to have to do this anyway. Other states are doing this very thing we’re talking about now.”

Maine is one of only eight states that does not require proof of citizenship before granting a driver’s license, said Jay Finegan, a spokesman for House Republicans.

Collins’ requirement was originally part of L.D. 501, which passed the House and Senate earlier this session and was signed by the governor. During negotiations over that bill, Collins said, the citizenship requirement was stripped out.

“Most people would have been satisfied with the compromise,” Collins said. “I wanted to do everything I could possibly do to get this passed into state law.”

L.D. 501 tied the expiration of a driver’s license or nondriver identification card to the expiration date of the documents giving a person permission to be in the country.

The vote to indefinitely postpone the amendment passed, 73-68. The amendment could still be introduced in the Senate, but Collins said that’s unlikely.

“Given the opposition in the House, I don’t know if that would be worthwhile,” Collins said. “I’m termed out. This is my last session in the Legislature. But there are other people who are going to pick it up next session.”