REAL ID needs REAL scrutiny
A few weeks ago, news columns were full of dire warnings, which happily didn't come true, that South Carolinians were in jeopardy of not being able to board airplanes or enter certain federal buildings without great inconvenience if Gov. Mark Sanford didn't cave in to demands involving the federal government's REAL ID.
But that was all about penalties for failing to implement the law rather than the merits of the law itself. Now the governor rightly is trying to focus attention on what's wrong with this sweeping legislation.
On our Commentary page today, the governor outlines some of his concerns, ranging from the huge cost to the states of implementing the REAL ID, to the establishment of what amounts to a national data bank that has raised substantial privacy and security concerns.
The governor, a former member of Congress, doesn't mince words about his outrage over what he consider a back-door way to create a "de-facto national ID card," something Congress hasn't been able to pass on its own.
The REAL ID law puts the burden on the state motor vehicle departments to comply with federal requirements for re-issuing driver's licenses or identification cards. To get a REAL ID compliant card, citizens would be required to show up at the DMV with supporting documentation, such as birth certificates, that would have to be entered into the data banks. Long lines and long wait times are on the horizon.
The governor by no means is the only state chief executive raising a ruckus about the REAL ID requirements. Actually most have expressed concerns, but most also filed requests for extensions to the compliance deadline, which had been set for May 11. The governor made headlines by being among the few who actually refused to ask for the extension on the basis that such a request said, in effect, that the state would follow the law. The S.C. Legislature previously passed a law prohibiting the state from complying.
As it turned out, the Department of Homeland Security gave all the states, including South Carolina, an extension, whether they asked for it or not. But that only postpones another showdown, now set for the end of 2009.
The governor wants to see Congress fully debate the merits of the REAL ID law, which he notes in his commentary never actually took place. Clearly he wants South Carolinians to help him convince their representatives in Washington to re-open the issue. Sen. Lindsey Graham did issue a statement when South Carolina was granted its extension saying he would "do my part to help ensure the federal government addresses the unfunded mandate burden imposed on the states by the REAL ID. Governors and state legislatures across the country are rightfully concerned about these requirements."
But the senator also was defensive of the concept behind the REAL ID, noting that "in this age of international terrorism we must secure the homeland. ... I believe we can accommodate the legitimate national security needs of our nation with the concerns raised by Gov. Sanford and the state Legislature."
Maybe so, but what about that national data bank and the other "loopholes" that have Gov. Sanford so alarmed? In view of the concern expressed by governors around the country, this matter needs far more attention that it has received from Congress and the members should make that sooner than later. Before you know it, we'll be up against another compliance deadline.