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Real questions unanswered about ID law

November 30, 1999|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Sixteen months before a national standard for driver's licenses and other ID takes effect, Maryland hasn't decided how to respond ? or what the federal requirements will be.

Congress passed the REAL ID Act, an anti-terrorism measure, in May 2005. Under the law, licenses and cards issued by states not meeting federal standards cannot be used for an "official purpose," such as boarding a commercial airplane or entering a federal building.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is expected to issue exact regulations for states in about six months, John T. Kuo, the administrator of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

The law takes effect in May 2008.

For now, though, Maryland is one of seven states that doesn't require people to prove they legally are in the United States ? "legal presence" ? to get a driver's license, Kuo said.

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Applicants currently must prove their identity and age and that they live in Maryland, he said.

It's not known yet if or when Maryland will comply and how much it would cost. An initial estimate was $150 million, but Kuo said Tuesday the cost would be much lower.

REAL ID states must verify applicants' documents and retain paper copies for at least seven years or digital copies for at least 10 years, according to Kuo's PowerPoint presentation.

Maine's legislature passed a resolution declaring that it won't comply, calling the act an unfunded mandate, an inconvenience with no real benefit and a potential invasion of privacy because states' records will be linked through a national database.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, a Judiciary Committee member, said after the hearing that he supports the REAL ID Act.

"When it comes down to it, our national security comes first," he said.

Shank called the cost estimate "scare tactic rhetoric." In fact, by creating uniform standards, Shank said, REAL ID will save time for MVA employees.

Kuo said less than 5 percent of transactions at MVA involve foreign documents. Because they can be tough to authenticate, they take up more than 17 percent of employees' time, he said.

"This General Assembly has stubbornly resisted our efforts to impose a legal presence requirement for a number of years," Shank said, referring to unsuccessful bills he co-sponsored in recent sessions.

Kuo told the committee that a two-tiered system is possible, providing all-purpose IDs to those who qualify and more limited IDs to others.

Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr., D-Calvert/Prince George's, said the lower standard would be appropriate for someone who wants to drive a car, but not get on a plane.

Acknowledging that the wait for a driver's license could go up if more documentation is required, John D. Porcari, the state's acting transportation secretary, said the department will try to balance safety, security and customer service.

Maryland has about 3.9 million licensed drivers, Kuo said. Each year, between 900,000 and 1 million Marylanders renew their licenses, he said.

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