REAL ID Heating Up, Deadline Looming

A mini-showdown over REAL ID is looming on the horizon. States have until March 31st to apply for an extension or else driver licenses and IDs from those states will not be accepted for air travel or entering federal facilities beginning May 11, 2008. Montana, New Hampshire, Maine, and South Carolina have said they will not apply for the extension, which is where the showdown comes into play.

With the deadline only five days away at this writing, we are starting to see some unusual twists and turns…

Montana has been leading the resistance by vocally proclaiming it will not apply for an extension, and urging other states to follow its actions. Yet, on Friday, March 21st, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gave Montana an extension, even though Montana had not applied for one and has insisted it will not follow the law. A few days before DHS gave Montana the non-requested extension, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators had asked for a blanket exemption to the May 11th deadline for all 50 states. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff denied the request citing that he is legally bound to that deadline by the REAL ID law.

New Hampshire requested an exemption, but DHS regarded it as legally unacceptable. South Carolina is considering suing over REAL ID, and today it was reported that Maine’s governor has requested REAL ID leniency, similar to what Montana was given.

California had previously requested and been granted an extension, but is now backing off of its commitment to REAL ID and is considering legislation opposing REAL ID. Louisiana is one of several other states considering similar bills. A total of seventeen states have already passed legislation.

DHS has been adamant in earlier statements that the May 11th deadline will be enforced. However, recent DHS actions have been characterized as “blinking” by both Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The looming deadline may be the impetus for Senator Lamar Alexander’s (R. – Tenn.) decision to propose legislation next week that would stop REAL ID from going forward. Sen. Alexander could have the leverage necessary to push the legislation through where other anti-REAL ID bills have been stalled in committee.

Opponents to the REAL ID Act cite privacy, infringement of state rights, and enormous financial costs, with no discernable anti-terrorism benefit, as the basis for their rejection.

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