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Maine bucks federal change to driver’s licenses

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Maine Legislature declared that it would refuse a congressional order to change its drivers' licenses so they can serve as national identification cards.

Supporters of Thursday's nonbinding resolution — called the first of its kind in the nation — say the federal program would invite identity theft and cost Maine taxpayers $185 million over the first five years.

The resolution, which passed 34-0 in the Senate and 137-4 in the House, says the Legislature "refuses to implement the Real ID Act of 2005" and asks Congress to repeal it. The act takes effect next year.

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

The Real ID Act passed after it was found that Sept. 11 terrorists had obtained legitimate driver's licenses. The law will link state records to a central database and seeks to unify the patchwork of state licensing rules, making it harder to obtain a card fraudulently. Now, Chertoff says, people cross borders with hundreds of kinds of IDs.

Airplane impact
State licenses that fail to meet Real ID's standards will not be able to be used to board an airplane or enter a federal building.

Shenna Bellows of the Maine Civil Liberties Union derided Real IDs as "a one-stop shop for identity thieves" because they would include coded addresses that could be read by someone with a scanner.

Bellows said Maine was the first state to oppose the law and that other states are considering similar resolutions.

Last March, the New Hampshire House of Representatives overwhelmingly rejected a $3 million grant for a Real ID pilot program, despite support for it from Democratic Gov. John Lynch.

In August, the National Conference of State Legislatures demanded that Congress either find a way to pay for the Real ID Act or repeal it. Officials in several states have complained that the law will cost them tens of millions of dollars to implement, far more than the federal government has estimated.

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.

Companion bill possible
In Maine, House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, a Democrat, acknowledged that Thursday's resolution 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 companion 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."