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Real problems with Real ID

Opinion Editorial
May 28, 2007

By Mike Krause

Near the end of the 2007 legislative session, the Colorado House of Representatives enacted a joint, non-binding resolution against the looming federal takeover of state driver’s license standards and issuance. But Montana recently took its own opposition a step further by passing a law outright refusing to implement the federal Real ID Act.

This begs the question of if and when Colorado lawmakers will codify opposition to this massive federal takeover of a state function into law.

If Colorado lawmakers allow Real ID to go into effect, as the federal government demands, then after December 31, 2009, Colorado driver’s license holders will have to be “re-enrolled” under an astonishing 162 pages of rules and regulations recently issued by the Department of Homeland Security. The state driver’s license will become a de facto national ID and the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles will be little more than a branch office of Homeland Security.

Rather than making the case for a federal takeover of driver’s license issuance, Congressional Republicans cynically attached Real ID to an un-related emergency spending bill for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for tsunami relief, thus ensuring both passage and the President’s signature in 2005.

Yet when creating Homeland Security in 2002, Congress specifically denied the new agency any authority to develop “a national identification system or card.” So it is hard to see Real ID as anything other than an end-run around the national ID prohibition and a massive assault on federalism that state taxpayers will have the privilege of paying for.

Homeland Security puts the cost to states for implementing Real ID at over $20 billion.

And since Congress cannot mandate that states implement federal regulatory programs, Real ID instead will deny anyone who does not carry a Real ID compliant license after the 2009 deadline the ability to use the license to board a plane, open a bank account, or any other service or activity the federal government claims jurisdiction over.

Among other things, Colorado’s Joint Resolution 1047 calls for any appropriation made with regards to Real ID to be used “exclusively for the purpose of undertaking a comprehensive analysis of the costs of implementing the REAL ID Act, or to mount a constitutional challenge to the Act by the state Attorney General.”

But Montana’s House Bill 287, which carries the force of state law, cuts to the chase, “The state of Montana will not participate in the implementation of the REAL ID ACT of 2005.” The law further directs the Montana Department of Justice (which includes the motor vehicle division) to report to Montana’s governor any attempt by Homeland Security to try and implement Real ID “through the operations of that division or department.”

If Congress wants to create a national identity system, then such a system should be vetted through the committee process, openly debated and voted up or down on its own merits.

The next Colorado Legislature could help force Congress to do its own dirty work by joining Montana in simply refusing to implement Real ID.

While a passport would be acceptable for “federal” purposes, it would be interesting to hear Colorado’s congressional delegation explain to constituents who don’t hold a passport why it is they can no longer board a plane or open a bank account simply because they are not carrying the proper papers.