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Published: Friday, 6/22/2007

What if the states say no?

STATES are lining up to defy a federal law requiring the first national standards for driver's licenses - and who can blame them? Regulations mandated by the 2005 REAL ID Act are just another clumsy attempt by the Homeland Security Department to thwart terrorism without thinking it through.

After the Sept. 11 hijackers were able to fraudulently obtain licenses and state IDs, Congress approved minimum nationwide standards for state driver's licenses or IDs. The goal was to improve homeland security via a uniform identification system.

It would require specific data from every license holder in the country, including Social Security number, home address, and date of birth. Before the card can even be issued applicants must also supply specific documentation like a birth certificate and proof of legal residence.

There are other provisions in the law requiring states to maintain databases of licensed drivers and ID cardholders and share them with other states. Not surprisingly, the new license requirements, attached as a rider on a military spending bill unanimously passed, drew immediate fire from state officials.

Some said the law raised the specter of a national ID card reminiscent of the "papers-please" society of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Many decried the enormous bureaucratic trouble and expense of requiring all states to conform to federal license standards.

It is estimated the unfunded mandate will cost states at least $23 billion to implement.

In short, many lawmakers say the law does more harm than good, would be a bureaucratic nightmare to enforce, threatens individual privacy, and makes citizens more, not less, vulnerable to identity theft.

While the federal government can't force states to comply with the national standards, it can make life complicated for those who don't. States would have to clearly indicate on their licenses that they are in noncompliance with federal law and cannot be used for any federal identification purpose.

The ramifications could be harsh. With the Federal Transportation and Security Administration responsible for airport security, residents of states that refuse to implement the REAL ID Act could be barred from boarding commercial airplanes. Same goes for those attempting to enter federal buildings without the proper credentials or additional screening.

Yet that is still no deterrent to states in revolt such as Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Washington, which have either passed laws or resolutions overwhelmingly rejecting the law. Bills opposing the REAL ID Act are pending in other states, including Georgia and Massachusetts.

State resistance to a standardized, electronically readable driver's license is growing. And without full compliance in all 50 states, how can there be a national ID card?

Congress should reconsider. Issuing security requirements that states can use to develop and strengthen their own systems makes more sense than mandating a complex, controversial, and costly national program with doubtful benefits.



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