February 10, 2017

Maine cannot wait for Congress to protect its citizens’ freedom of movement By Bill Diamond

Last time I wrote, I spoke about the urgent situation facing Mainers, whose freedom of travel is being restricted, because of an unnecessary law on the books in Augusta. 

As of January 30, Maine driver’s licenses and state ID cards are no longer considered legitimate forms of identification by the federal government. That means Mainers can no longer enter any federal facilities unless they have some form of alternative ID. 

All of this is happening because of a law passed more than 10 years ago that prohibits Maine from complying with state ID standards approved by Congress known as:“Real ID.” Maine is one of just five states to snub the federal government in this way, and after a decade, Mainers are paying the price. 

The problem is gaining more and more attention. Veterans are having trouble accessing health care. Maine firefighters who traveled to Washington, D.C., to take part in federal firefighting qualifications have been barred from the testing facilities. More and more companies that deal with the federal government are learning that Maine’s noncompliance is hurting their businesses. 

And it’s going to get worse. In less than a year, Maine IDs will no longer be accepted by the TSA, which will prevent Mainers from boarding commercial planes.

As more people are affected by this issue, more and more lawmakers are hearing from constituents, that a fix is necessary, if Mainers are going to be allowed to go about their lives without being restricted by the federal government. 

There are two ideas for how to address this issue: First is passing my bill, which would repeal the law prohibiting Maine from complying with the federal ID standards. The Secretary of State would make the necessary security enhancements to change Maine’s licenses and Mainers would no longer be inconvenienced. 

The second idea is to convince Congress to pass a bill that would provide relief to Mainers, allowing them to continue to ignore federal law. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and some of my colleagues support this approach, saying that Congress created the problem and it should fall to Congress to fix it. 

I’m grateful for Rep. Pingree’s attention to this issue, but I don't share her optimism that Congress will act in Maine’s best interests. First of all, why would Senators and Representatives from states who have complied with these standards vote to let Maine off the hook? Furthermore, after 10 years of Congress standing by “Real ID”, why should we expect it to change course now? 

Given the explosive nature of politics in Washington and gridlock in Congress stretching back nearly a decade, Maine cannot wait for relief from Capitol Hill. Maine lawmakers have the power to correct this problem, and it’s our responsibility to do so on behalf of all our constituents whose freedom will be restricted if we do not.

Opponents of “Real ID” continue to cite privacy concerns in their opposition to the federal standards; which require the state to copy and keep a database of information and documents submitted when Mainers apply for their license, such as birth certificates or Social Security cards. I expect some lawmakers will continue to voice those concerns and oppose my bill. 

But we must learn from experience. More than half the states have implemented “Real ID” and the sky has not fallen in those states that have done so. Peoples’ privacy has not been compromised.

The stakes today are too high. Mainers should not be expected to tolerate restrictions on their right to travel just because lawmakers in Augusta want to have academic, philosophical debates. It’s incumbent on all of us do the right thing and to protect our constituents’ freedoms. 

My bill has been referred to the Legislature’s Committee on Transportation, which has jurisdiction of driver’s licenses and state ID cards. I’m pleased to have earned the support, not only of Democrats and Republicans who understand the urgency of this situation, but of Gov. Paul LePage, who has indicated that he supports efforts to preserve Mainers’ freedom by complying with “Real ID”. 

I’ll keep you informed as my bill moves through the legislative process. And as always, I’m ready and willing to listen to my constituents. Please feel free to contact me at: diamondhollyd@aol.com or (207) 287-1515, if you have questions or comments.

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