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Criticism Grows on REAL ID

Correction Appended

The Senate today will begin exploring an overhaul to Bush administration-era federal identification requirements that continue to draw criticism from a diverse cast of lobbying interests.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will deliver the current White House’s assessment of the REAL ID Act before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Originally attached to a 2005 supplemental war spending and tsunami relief bill, the law compels states by 2010 to issue driver’s licenses and other forms of identification only to applicants who can prove their lawful immigration status.

Written by former House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the bill followed the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 commission that reported the year before that “all but one of the 9/11 hijackers acquired some form of U.S. identification.—

“Secure identification should begin in the United States,— the commission recommended in its best-selling 2004 account of the terrorist attacks. “The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as drivers licenses. Fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft.—

The National Governors Association, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and other state-level groups blasted the bill at the time, calling it an unfunded mandate and impractical to execute.

“It forces entry-level state employees … to be [Immigration and Naturalization Service] agents,— Mike Huckabee, then-NGA chairman and Arkansas Republican governor, told Roll Call at the time. “The states are going to have to enforce [immigration] laws that the federal government doesn’t have the will to do.—

According to one estimate, the law was expected to cost states more than $11 billion over five years.

Since it was signed by President George W. Bush, nearly half of the nation’s governors and state legislatures have thumbed their noses at the requirements, according to a recent count by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU continues to update a Web site,, that criticizes a law that it calls “real invasive, real expensive and real pointless.—

The ACLU is now pressing lawmakers not to adopt new legislation — the PASS ID Act, written by Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Daniel Akaka (Hawaii) — that would amend provisions of Sensenbrenner’s original bill.

Co-sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the new bill, drafters claim, would strengthen privacy protections and ease cost concerns — all while remaining “fully consistent with the 9/11 commission.—

A statement by Akaka’s office claims that the nation’s governors support the new legislation, although the NGA press office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Heritage Foundation scholars Janice Kephart and Jena Baker McNeill also are pushing lawmakers not to back Akaka’s rewrite. But unlike the ACLU’s claims that the new bill will be “a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,— Kephart and McNeill in a recent report bashed Akaka’s bill for weakening Sensenbrenner’s law.

“PASS ID advocates portray the bill as a means of maintaining the 9/11 Commission recommendations in a more flexible manner than offered by REAL ID,— the duo wrote. “In reality, the PASS ID Act repeals outright provisions of REAL ID, stripping away provisions that are already making driver’s license issuance more secure.—

But while the ACLU and Heritage oppose Akaka’s bill, national groups representing federal, state and local law enforcement are lobbying in support of it.

In the past month, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and the National Association of Police Organizations have written the White House and the Homeland Security panel in support of Akaka’s bill.

Democratic staffers confirmed Senate officers are already working with state and local authorities to avoid a repeat of four years ago, when Huckabee and other governors balked at Sensenbrenner, who also does not agree with Akaka’s changes.

The Badger State lawmaker, who is now the top Republican on the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee, said in a statement provided by his office that “PASS ID is nothing but a smokescreen, allowing the Obama Administration and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to turn back the clock to pre 9/11, while putting America at risk.—

“In 2005, the Senate voted unanimously in support of REAL ID, including then-Senator Barack Obama,— Sensenbrenner said. “PASS ID also lowers security standards and eliminates the opportunity for states to be able to cross-check who already has a driver’s license with another state or verify birth certificate records to prevent identity theft — its advocates are inaccurate in touting that they are following the 9/11 Commission recommendations or keeping strong security standards.—

Correction: July 15, 2009

The original headline did not properly reflect the article. Many police organizations and the National Governors Association support the revised legislation.