It was with great sadness that I saw a story on Channel 13 about the way Maine veterans are being hurt by our state’s failure to comply with federal law regarding our state driver’s licenses.
The story was about Daniel Patstone, a veteran living in Maine who receives health care at the Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire. It’s the closest VA clinic to his home, but he received a letter in the mail from the VA saying his Maine ID would no longer let him receive care there.
Patstone could get a passport. But he’s retired, and on a fixed income. He can’t afford the expense of the passport, or the weekslong wait to obtain one.
A Maine driver’s license will no longer be accepted as legitimate identification at federal facilities, such as the VA, starting in less than a month, on January 30, 2017. Unless the legislature acts, a year later, Maine IDs will no longer be accepted by the TSA for boarding airplanes.
These repercussions are a result of Maine’s failure to adopt the stricter federal regulations for driver’s licenses created in 2005, in response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks. These changes, part of the “Real ID” program and the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, were designed to make state identification cards more uniform and secure.
In 2007, the legislature passed a law prohibiting the Secretary of State from complying with Real ID. Opponents of the new regulation had philosophical objections to the new safeguards. For several years, the situation was okay, if not perfect. Maine received waivers from the federal government, essentially protecting Mainers from the repercussions of noncompliance with federal law.
Now, though, those waivers are being denied. The federal government is making itself very clear: If Maine doesn’t come into compliance, Mainers will pay the price.
It’s not just veterans who will be affected. Mainers will be barred from all sorts of federal facilities. I’ve already received phone calls from transportation companies in Maine, who say their delivery drivers with Maine driver’s licenses will be barred from making deliveries at federal properties, such as office buildings, courthouses and military bases. And of course, any Mainer who wants to take a flight to visit family, conduct business or simply go on a vacation will be barred from using their Maine IDs to board planes in just a year.
The status quo is untenable. We should not allow Mainers to be treated differently by the federal government than residents of other states.
The time has come for lawmakers to lift the prohibition on compliance with Real ID, allowing Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to make the necessary changes to our driver’s licensing process that will give Mainers the same benefits enjoyed by residents of other states.
I’m aware that some in Augusta may still have reservations about the stricter standards required by Real ID and the privacy concerns they raise. Their concerns deserve to be aired. But 26 states have already complied with the law, and we have not seen any issues related to violation of privacy rights in those states.
An additional 21 states and territories are in the process of becoming compliant. Soon, Maine will be one of just eight states in noncompliance.
I’ve submitted a law to lift the prohibition on the Secretary of State and bring Maine in compliance with Real ID. We need to protect our residents’ rights to go about their business without being burdened by the repercussions of noncompliance with federal law.