A year ago, lawmakers and Gov. John Baldacci were bullied into compliance with the Real ID act with threats that innocent Mainers would be banned from commercial flying. Legislation was hastily written up and approved, mandating residency and citizenship/legal status to get a driver’s license.
The state had a problem of illegal licensing too, as all too regularly carloads of non-Maine residents (and oftentimes undocumented aliens) were coming here, getting licensed, then scooting to parts unknown. The mandates of residency and citizenship were good for curbing that.
Now, there is legislation to repeal the citizenship/legal status provision, while retaining the residency requirement. Proponents of the repeal say the former is a problem, but not the latter, because the documentation necessary for citizenship/legal status is diverse, cumbersome and hard to gather.
These are fair points. The connection between drivers’ licenses and citizenship was always tenuous, as the ability to operate a motor vehicle safely and one’s birthplace or documentation are unrelated. Yet the looming specter of Real ID made this leap, which made Maine jump right along.
Federal silence is now stunning. The Department of Homeland Security, after all the saber-rattling regarding flights, hasn’t peeped about the citizenship issue, to our knowledge. The turnover of administrations has completely altered the attitude, it seems, toward enforcing Real ID.
Great. Just when we thought we had it understood.
We disagree with Real ID for one big reason: It is an aircraft carrier of an unfunded mandate. The federal government wanted states to swallow these changes to their drivers’ licenses to fulfill the lofty policy goal of creating a truly national, verifiable and traceable identity card.
There’s nothing wrong with its goal: better national security. But the new administration has put Real ID into limbo. We were all accustomed to the dictates of Michael Chertoff. Now, the DHS is run by Janet Napolitano, who as governor of Arizona, signed legislation that refused to comply with it.
This signals that changes are afoot. Maine, however, cannot afford to wait. The illegal licensing and license-shopping that were occurring are solvable through residency requirements. If the burden of proving citizenship or legal status is so cumbersome, then it should be repealed.
Or maybe the better way is suspending it for a period, say six months or a year. Nobody knows what DHS will say about Real ID; probably not even DHS, this early in the Obama administration. They could mandate citizenship again. Who knows?
In the meantime, we’ll keep residency, until Washington can make up its mind.
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