“I don’t think the states should be required to implement the Real ID law until Congress demonstrates that it is willing to reimburse the states for the cost of this mandate.” –Lamar Alexander
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) said today during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security that he would offer an amendment to halt the Real ID Program, which imposes minimum federal standards for state-issued driver’s licenses.
“I plan to offer an amendment that would prevent your department from enforcing the Real ID mandate until the federal government provides full funding for the implementation,” Alexander said to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “I don’t think the states should be required to implement the Real ID law until Congress demonstrates that it is willing to reimburse the states for the cost of this mandate. I think it is inappropriate for Congress to create a de facto national identification card without the Senate even holding a hearing because it would seek to impose huge amounts of costs on state governments.”
Alexander said the estimated cost of the Real ID program is $4 billion while only $90 million has been appropriated by Congress. Currently 46 states have received waivers that provide three additional years to implement the program. Current law would require states to comply by May 2008 with U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations on driver’s licenses which were released in January.
The Real ID Act, which sets minimum national standards for state driver’s licenses as part of an effort to deter terrorists from easily obtaining identification, passed Congress in 2005 without any Senate hearings. It was added to a bill to fund troops in Iraq during a closed-door meeting. Senator Alexander plans to offer an amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2009.
Sen. Alexander also praised Secretary Chertoff for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) swift response to the recent disasters in Tennessee. A total of 17 Tennessee counties have been authorized to receive some form of federal aid in response to the deadly storms that hit the state in February. FEMA is part of DHS.
“I’ve been involved with disasters and tragedies for the last 30 years in our state, and I’ve never seen a more effective response to a major tragedy or disaster than I saw February 5th and 6th,” said Alexander, who has twice visited areas devastated by the storms. “In the case of Macon County, the tornado hit at about 9:30 at night, and people from the FEMA office in Atlanta were on the Tennessee border at midnight and disaster recovery centers were open the next day. On a scale of zero to ten, this was a ten-plus.”