Maine Legislature passes resolution against Real ID

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AUGUSTA (AP) – The Maine Legislature registered nearly unanimous opposition Thursday to the federal Real ID Act, which requires states to change their drivers’ licenses so they can be used as national identification cards linked to a central database.

Supporters of a nonbinding resolution say the program would cost Maine taxpayers $185 million over the first five years and invite identity theft.

The resolution asks Congress to repeal the law, which takes effect next year, and says “the Maine Legislature refuses to implement the Real ID Act of 2005.” It passed 34-0 in the Senate and 137-4 in the House of Representatives.

Copies were to be sent to President Bush, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other federal and state officials.

The resolution had the support of diverse advocacy groups, including the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the libertarian Cato Institute.

Jim Harper of the Cato Institute warned that negative consequences of a national ID card would be “profound.” “Lawful trade and travel would be disrupted for ID checks, at a substantial cost to both liberty and commerce. What little benefits we’d reap would not be worth the price,” said Harper.

Shenna Bellows of the MCLU derided Real IDs as “a one-stop shop for identity thieves” because they would have to include coded addresses that could be read by someone with a scanner. Bellows said several other states are considering following Maine’s example.

“I think there’s going to be a huge snowball of these” resolutions, she said.

The law is due to take effect in 2008.

Members of the National Conference of State Legislatures voted during an annual meeting in August to approve a resolution to demand that Congress either find a way to pay for the Real ID Act or repeal it by the end of 2007.

At the time, Chertoff sought to ease worries about the law, saying there was no intent to create “a big brother” approach or create a federal database of drivers’ personal information.

The law was motivated by the Sept. 11 terrorists who used legitimate driver’s licenses before the 2001 attacks. It seeks to unify the patchwork of state licensing rules and make it harder to obtain a card fraudulently. Now, Chertoff said, hundreds of kinds of IDs are used to allow people to cross borders.

In Maine, House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, acknowledged that the resolution passed Thursday is not binding. She said the language saying the state refuses to comply with the law “is more expressing our feeling and intent that we’re not interested in following through.”

But Pingree added that a companion piece of legislation yet to be voted on directs the secretary of state, who administers licensing laws, not to comply. Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap has said the law would be costly and difficult to implement.

Senate Majority Leader Elizabeth Libby Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, sponsor of the resolution, said Real ID “will do nothing to make us safer, but it is our job as state legislators to protect the people of Maine from just this sort of dangerous federal mandate.”

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