AUGUSTA – Maine should require people getting driver’s licenses to be state residents, a report presented to the Legislature says. But doing that may not be as simple as it sounds because there are so many ways to define residency.

The report submitted to the Transportation Committee on Wednesday stems from a pair of bills last session that proposed a law requiring Maine driver’s license holders to be state residents. Both were set aside until the issue could be studied further.

Maine’s policy of not requiring residence has come under attack and non-residents have been prosecuted by federal officials for bringing other non-Mainers to the state to get licenses.

“It’s as contentious an issue as has come before this committee in terms of emotion, and protection (from) having illegal immigrants in this country,” said Sen. Dennis Damon, D-Trenton, co-chairman of the committee.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who heads the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, endorsed the residency recommendation, saying he hopes it will ease concerns about illegal aliens getting driver’s licenses.

“Although it is not a magic bullet aimed at ceasing illegal immigration, a residency requirement would add another layer of security to an already rigorous license issuance process,” Dunlap said.

While calling for a residency requirement and a policy for verifying residency documentation, the report does not address the thorny issue of whether a license applicant must be a legal resident of the United States.

Not only does legal status go beyond the scope of the study panel’s charge, but it strays into the complex area of immigration, which is a federal responsibility, state license services Director Robert O’Connell told the committee.

In addition, a state law passed earlier this year, which bars the state from complying with the federal Real ID national identity card law, also prevented the study committee from delving into illegal immigration, O’Connell said.

While the Legislature must focus strictly on state residency, even that can be a highly complex subject. The report says there’s “a broad spectrum of constitutional, statutory, and regulatory requirements for the determination of residency for official purposes” in Maine.

The Constitution requires that legislators, for example, must have lived in the state for three years. Residency requirements for voters are much more lenient, and as Sen. Bill Diamond noted, allow registrants to list a park bench as home.

Hunters may face the most stringent residency requirements in the state. They must have lived in the state for three months, be registered to vote in Maine if they vote, must have their motor vehicles registered in Maine and complied with state income tax laws.

“So the catch could be defining how we will define residence,” said Diamond, D-Windham, a former secretary of state who sits on the Transportation Committee.

The report recommends allowing exceptions for college students, military members and their families in a license residency requirement, and calls for the Transportation Committee to submit a bill incorporating the recommendations during the 2008 session.

But it recommends against imposing waiting periods for licenses, saying they could serve more to inconvenience people than to deter wrongdoing.

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