AUGUSTA — The real-life impacts of Maine’s refusal to issue new federally mandated driver’s licenses and identification cards were on display Tuesday as lawmakers heard testimony on a bill that would bring the state into compliance with the federal Real ID law.
Maine has been among a handful of states to resist the federal law, which requires digital photos on state driver’s licenses, IDs that can be used with facial recognition software, and the digital archiving of identity documents such as birth certificates or Social Security numbers, among other things.
Carpenters, truck drivers, veterans and others in Maine started noticing the effects of the state’s non-compliance in February when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense started barring Mainers from entering federal facilities and bases – including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and the former Pease Air Force base in New Hampshire – when their only form of identification was a state-issued license or identification card.
Robert Burleigh of Kennebunk, an employee with the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, a carpenters union, told the Legislature’s Transportation Committee on Tuesday that Maine workers are being turned away at the shipyard because of the state’s non-compliance.
Burleigh said he supported Maine’s resistance to a federal law that comes close to resembling a national identification system, but the concerns first raised a decade ago are no longer an issue for him. Burleigh said many carpenters don’t have federally issued passports, passport cards or the other forms of identification that the federal government will accept under the Real ID law, causing many to be turned away when they reported for work at the shipyard last month.
“This not only creates a hardship for our members, but also for the contractors who are trying to complete their projects on time and not incur penalties for missing required deadlines,” Burleigh said.
Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, the sponsor of L.D. 306, which would bring Maine into compliance, told lawmakers that time is running out for Maine because Homeland Security has steadily stopped issuing waivers for non-compliant states and has said it will not accept a Maine-issued driver’s license as an acceptable form of identification for boarding a plane starting in January 2018. Diamond is a former Maine secretary of state, the official in charge of the state’s Bureau of Motor Vehicles, the agency that issues driver’s licenses.
AN OUTLIER IN NEW ENGLAND
Diamond said Maine is the only New England state not in compliance with the federal law and it is unlikely that Congress would take action to provide the state any relief. In fact, Diamond said members of Maine’s congressional delegation, including Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, are urging the state Legislature to take action to provide traveling Mainers with relief by moving toward compliance.
“As much as we would hope that Congress would intervene and give us relief, that is not going to happen,” Diamond said. He said Sen. Angus King, an independent, also is encouraging the Legislature to fix the problem on its end and to not rely on Congress for help. Diamond said Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, also tried to pass a federal law to help Maine.
“But that had no chance of going anywhere. And why should it?” Diamond asked. “Why should 45 other states that already have either gone through the process of complying or are about to be in the process of complying, why would they change the federal law for Maine? The answer is simple, they won’t. They made it work and we can, too.”
Diamond said New Hampshire recently passed a law that brings that state into compliance with the federal law, but includes provisions that allow residents to “opt out” and receive only a license that complies with state law. Other states have done likewise, Diamond said, and noted that he is open to amending his bill to put Maine in a similar position.
But opponents of the change, including Maine’s current secretary of state, Matthew Dunlap, told the committee that federal law requiring states to collect and store sensitive information could be a “treasure trove” for identity thieves or in the future could be misused by the federal government. The federal law also came with no funding for states to implement changes at the state level, making it an unfunded mandate.
Dunlap also said the change would do nothing to help improve national security or protect against terrorism, but instead opens the door to the federal government being able to track and even impede the free movement of citizens.
CONCERNS OVER CITIZEN PRIVACY
“What sets us apart as a nation, is that we are, ostensibly, free of government surveillance,” Dunlap said. “That we can travel unimpeded, engage in our business and speak our minds without the fear of that midnight knock on our doors.” Dunlap then listed examples from U.S. history where the government did cross the line – to spy on clergy during the Vietnam War, the surveillance of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the battle for civil rights in the 1960s, and even the tracking of Hollywood actors suspected of being in contact with Communists during McCarthyism era of the 1950s.
“(These) are enough to remind us to be vigilant in the protection of our rights as American citizens,” Dunlap said. He also noted that the federal law that sets up Real ID allows the Homeland Security to amend the rules at anytime and without notice. He said current rules required the state to keep a database of birth certificates and photographs that comply with facial recognition technology.
“Later, Homeland Security may well decide they also need a thumb print, maybe an iris scan, maybe a component that includes a DNA sequence, maybe a complete breakdown of your status and history as a voter, or whether or not you have a Class 3 federal firearms permit or whether you own any firearms at all,” Dunlap said.
He said that as secretary of state, he would follow the law the Legislature passes. He estimated it would initially cost taxpayers between $2 million to $3 million to comply with Real ID standards.
OTHER IDENTIFICATION OPTIONS
Others who testified said Maine had other options, including subsidizing the purchase of U.S. passports or passport cards based on income. But members of the committee, including the House chairman, Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, said ultimately they would be the ones answering to constituents if they didn’t figure out a way to fix the problem.
Maine is one of only five states that have laws refusing to comply with the federal law. The other non-compliant states are Kentucky, Montana, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.
Members of the Transportation Committee will continue to debate the bill in the days ahead when they take it up during a pending work session, where they may amend the measure before they vote to recommend its passage or rejection before the full Legislature.
Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at: