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Analysis: States fall into line on REAL ID

By SHAUN WATERMAN, UPI Homeland and National Security Editor   |   Feb. 18, 2008 at 9:48 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- All but six states have complied with federal requirements to seek an extension of the deadline they face for implementing more secure driver licenses for U.S. citizens or legal residents only under the REAL ID Act.

The list of state governments falling into line in the past couple of weeks includes former hold-outs like New Jersey and Washington, according to documents posted on the Web Friday by the Department of Homeland Security.

New Jersey filed for an extension after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff personally called Gov. Jon Corzine, according to one account.

Of the six states that have so far not filed, only Delaware was expected to ask for an extension by the May deadline, according to Brian Zimmer, president of the non-profit lobby group Coalition for a Secure Driver's License.

Zimmer said the governors of Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and South Carolina "appear to have turned their face against implementing the law" -- setting their citizens up for additional document requirements at airports and federal buildings.

REAL ID sets tough document security and information-sharing standards for state licensing authorities and bans the issuance of licenses except to those who can prove they are U.S. citizens or are in the country legally. States are not required to comply, but licenses that do not meet the act's standards will not be valid for federal purposes, including boarding airplanes and entering federal courts and other buildings.

The act comes into force in May and will apply to states that have not filed for an extension, giving them until December 2009 to meet its standards. Air travelers and visitors to federal buildings trying to use licenses from hold-out states as identification after the deadline will be turned away, said Homeland Security spokeswoman Laura Keehner.

Only a handful of states filed for an extension before the publication of regulations governing the new standards last month. More than a dozen state legislatures passed legislation or resolutions opposing the act last year. In several states, including Washington, lawmakers tried to make the laws binding, in some cases by banning state governments from spending any money to implement the act.

New Jersey never passed a law against the act but was keeping its options open despite applying for an extension, officials there said.

"We still have concerns" about the law, state Motor Vehicle Commission spokesman Mike Horan told UPI. "The extension gives us more time to review the regulations."

"We didn't want to create problems for our citizens (when the rules come into force) in May," said Horan, adding, "We have not made a final decision whether to comply" with the act's requirements.

Zimmer said the New Jersey decision followed a phone call to Corzine in early February from Chertoff. "A senior Homeland Security official told me Chertoff reached out personally to a number of governors" including Corzine earlier in the month, he said.

Officials from Homeland Security and New Jersey could not confirm the phone call.

"All I can say is that we continue to work with states to encourage them all to implement" the new rules, said Keehner.

Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, in a statement quietly posted on her Web site last month, said her state was also keeping its options open.

"I will not allow for confusion and chaos at our busy airports," she said, calling the new federal regulations on REAL ID "ambiguous."

She said she would "continue to work with state and federal officials, our congressional delegation, as well as my fellow governors to address these concerns and to find a solution."

Zimmer said citizens of the five hold-out states faced a "nightmare" in May.

"These governors have not told their citizens what will happen," he said. "They have not told them they will have to go out and get passports" or some other federal ID. "This will hit pretty hard in Oklahoma and South Carolina" he said, pointing out that those states were business centers.

The Department of Justice and the General Services Administration, which runs federal buildings, have yet to draw up regulations governing what will happen to defendants and others with a legal right to appear in court if they are unable to present other identity documents. But the Transportation Security Administration, part of Homeland Security, will not allow people to board planes unless they have other identification, said Keehner.

Homeland Security officials say they have tried to address state concerns about the funding of the new requirements by providing up to $359 million in grants.

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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