U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today joined several Senate colleagues in introducing legislation to delay the implementation of the 2005 Real ID Act, which he called a “huge unfunded mandate” on the states that will hurt other key programs such as education.
“What do unfunded mandates mean? Higher property taxes. Higher tuition costs. Less funding for higher education so we can stay competitive with China and India,” Alexander said. “Less money for lower classroom sizes, less money for rewarding teachers – that’s what mandates do.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), primary sponsor of the bill, praised Alexander as having been “a leading voice in raising concerns about the costs imposed upon states by the Real ID Act.”
Current law would require states to be in compliance by May 2008 with Department of Homeland Security [DHS] regulations on drivers licenses that have yet to be publicly released. The Collins-Alexander amendment would extend that deadline to two years after the public issue of the regulations, and grant the department’s head more discretion to grant waivers. It also creates a committee of outside experts to examine several issues, including:
• Reimbursing states for the costs of implementing the Real ID program.
• Resolving conflicts between state eligibility requirements for drivers licenses.
• Protecting the privacy and constitutional rights of those holding drivers licenses and personal identification cards.
• Securing all personal data maintained in electronic form.
• Providing procedural and substantive due process, including rules and right of appeal, for individuals to challenge errors in their data records.
• Preventing the unauthorized use of information from license cards.
“We are, after all, for the first time in the history of a liberty-loving nation, creating a national identification card law -- with all the ramifications of that,” Alexander said. “Real ID was stuffed into the supplemental appropriations bill for Hurricane Katrina and the troops in Iraq, so of course we had to vote for the bill, but we had no chance to amend it -- no debate, no hearing, and no consideration of other alternatives. And now we impose on the states an $11 billion unfunded mandate. Now… I would say we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t stop and think about what we’ve done.
“There are other options. For example, we might need a work card in the United States. A lot of the impetus for this came from immigration problems. And since many of those problems are the result of people wanting to come here and work, maybe one [solution] would be a secure Social Security card. It’s going to be a central part of a comprehensive immigration bill, and if that’s the case, we might not need Real ID at all.”
Other cosponsors include senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).