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1/26/2007
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Maine Lawmakers Refuse To Implement Real ID Act, Call For Its Repeal

The resolution charges that the Real ID Act of 2005 would place an unfair financial burden on states, threatens privacy, and leaves citizens vulnerable to identity theft.

Legislators in Maine have refused to implement the Real ID Act and are calling on Congress to repeal it.

The Maine Senate and House of Representatives passed a joint resolution Thursday demanding the repeal of the law and announcing they were the first state lawmakers in the country to do so. The resolution states that the Real ID Act of 2005 would place an unfair financial burden on states, threatens privacy, and leaves citizens vulnerable to identity theft. It also states that the law, scheduled to take effect next year, fails to accomplish its mission of improving security.

"The federal government may be willing to burden us with the high costs of a program that 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," said Maine Senate Majority Leader Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Kennebec County, who sponsored the resolution. "I am proud that this state has led the way in taking a stand against Real ID."

The Real ID Act aims to link drivers' licenses and state identification to a central database, where all states can access the information. It also aims to prevent identity crime and improve national security by imposing stricter requirements for obtaining and creating licenses. It calls for machine-readable technology but does not specify the type.

Maine House Majority Leader Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, said the law does more harm than good.

"The Real ID Act is not only a massive unfunded federal mandate, but it also puts Maine people at increased risk," Pingree said. "We cannot be spending millions of state dollars on an initiative that does more harm to our state than good."

The resolution passed unanimously in the Maine Senate and 137-4 in the House. It states that the legislature is protesting the law, which would cost Maine taxpayers about $185 million in the first five years.

Legislators who voted against the resolution demanding the repeal Real ID Act did not return calls for comment Friday. Statements from those supporting the repeal called the law a "bureaucratic nightmare." Several legislators voting for the repeal posted their speeches on the Internet and linked to video recordings of their statements.

They said that the law would require Maine to overhaul its licensing system, including its information storage systems and databases. It also would increase the time it takes to get a license and turn the state's motor vehicle employees into federal law enforcement agents, they said. It would increase risk of identity theft by requiring all identity information, including birth certificates, to be available to motor vehicle workers nationwide and by providing identification with machine-readable zones that would amount to one-stop shopping for identity thieves, they said. The lawmakers also said that the law could be used as an internal passport to track people's movements and activities.

Liberal and libertarian groups oppose it, as does the National Conference of State Legislatures, which estimates that it will cost states $11 billion in five years. Supporters argue that it would be implemented with caution and would enhance national security by making it harder for terrorists and illegal immigrants to forge licenses or obtain them fraudulently.

The U.S. Senate voted unanimously in favor of the law in 2005. The U.S. House of Representatives voted 261-161 in favor, with 11 members abstaining. The House vote was split mainly along party lines, with Democrats, including new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, opposing it. Some federal lawmakers are also calling for Congress to repeal the law.

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