Lawmakers from the Massachusetts State Senate submitted a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick on Wednesday, demanding the state government's full compliance with the federal REAL ID Act, according to Maria Sliwa, spokeswoman for a public-interest group and sister of Guardian Angels founder and talk show host Curtis Sliwa.
The senators' action follows the filing of a Public Records Request with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) by the Coalition for a Secure Driver's License (CSDL) regarding that state's low level of compliance with the federal identification regulations.
Enacted in 2005 during the Bush Administration, the REAL ID Act requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish standards for state issued driver's licenses that would be used for "official purposes," such as boarding a commercial airplane, obtaining a U.S. passport, and other activities requiring the verification of identity.
The Act was based on a recommendation by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, a/k/a the 9/11 Commission, which stated that, "[T]he federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver's licenses." DHS published the REAL ID standards in January 2008.
State Senators Robert Hedlund, Michael Knapik, Bruce Tarr, and Richard Ross urged "immediate action" to remedy their concern that falling behind on compliance with the law has made "Massachusetts a magnet state for criminals and others seeking to fraudulently obtain driver's licenses under assumed or fictitious identities," according to Maria Sliwa.
In addition, the Republican Senators noted their concern that Massachusetts will be "one of few states whose permissive driver's license practices may bar residents from boarding airplanes."
As a result of the passage of the REAL ID Act, most of the U.S. states' governments have made significant progress toward securing their jurisdictions' identification documents. A progress report released by DHS in August 2012 revealed that, "all states meet or commit to meet 83 percent of the material compliance benchmarks, which DHS believes may understate state progress."
However, according to documents received through the Public Records Request by the non-governmental organization (NGO) CSDL, Massachusetts hasn't made much progress in complying since 2009.
Although Congress passed the REAL ID program in 2005, the implementation of the full program has been delayed several times due to state opposition. While some states, such as North Carolina and Georgia, have supported the program, many states are opposed. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 25 states have passed resolutions rejecting REAL ID and it is illegal to comply with the law in 15 states.
DHS officials have noted that so far 19 states are currently compliant with the REAL ID Act. While all states have received a "temporary deferment," DHS plans to announce enforcement of the REAL ID Act in the fall of 2013.
Brian Zimmer, President of CSDL stated, "Senator Tarr and his colleagues are right to be concerned. MassDOT is gambling with long odds that DHS will do nothing. Meanwhile, as more and more states move forward with compliance, Massachusetts will be left further and further behind."
Rachel Kaprielian, the Massachusetts Registrar of Motor Vehicles, was also copied on the letter, according to Ms. Sliwa, who is a former New York City Police officer and adjunct faculty member at the Columbia School of Journalism. www.journalism.columbia.edu/profile/389-maria-sliwa/164