Home Politics John Aronno: On Politics House Punts on REAL ID Act, Offers Objection in Lieu of Action

House Punts on REAL ID Act, Offers Objection in Lieu of Action

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Photo by Josh Hallett, Creative Commons Licensing.

On day 90 of the 90-day legislative session, the Alaska Legislature finally passed legislation responding to the federal government’s required compliance with the REAL ID Act of 2005.

The federal requirement, signed into law as part of an omnibus bill entitled, “Emergency Supplemental Appropriation for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief,” dealt with myriad new regulations — including security measures “for the state driver’s licenses and identity documents, as well as various immigration issues pertaining to terrorism.”

The new standards were a result of the 9/11 Commission as a necessary precaution to combat terrorism.

“Fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft,” the commission found. “At many entry points to vulnerable facilities, including gates for boarding aircraft, sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists.”

They recommended a requirement that all state-issued licenses and IDs must “bear digitally encoded personal information and possess physical features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication for fraudulent purposes,” according to the Migration Policy Institute, a D.C.-based nonprofit.

Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens were among the 99 U.S. senators who lent the measure their stamp of approval (the late Sen. Daniel Inouye was absent for the vote).

The result was an unfunded mandate requiring the states to comply with the new federal standards.

12 years later, 26 states have done so. Alaska is not one of them.

Alaska passed a law, carried by Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), that prohibited the use of any state funds “for the purpose of implementation of the requirements of the federal Real ID Act of 2005.”

The objection remains law today.

But, so does the federal law requiring state compliance. That could soon be a significant issue for Alaskans hoping to get out of dodge this Summer.

In March, Governor Bill Walker (I-Alaska) warned about potential threats non-compliance could translate to:

“Starting June 6, Alaskans who work or live on U.S. military bases will not be able to gain unescorted entry using their Alaska driver’s licenses or any other form of state identification — if the legislature does not pass bills to ensure Alaska’s compliance with the federal REAL ID Act,” Walker stated in a press release. “Also, starting January [22, 2018], Alaskans will need a U.S. passport or other REAL ID Act-compliant forms of identification for domestic travel.”

As I noted at the time,

In past years, Alaska has received a series of three-year waivers exempting the state from enforcement of the REAL ID Act, but DHS has told the Department of Administration (DOA) that, unless the State passes legislation this year, there will not be another waiver.

As soon as June 6, state employees, private contractors, teachers, and others will not be permitted on base without action by the legislature.

“That would directly impact 14,000 local contractors and service providers who could be denied access to federal and military installations,” Brian Duffy, representing the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, told lawmakers during a hearing on SB34 — a bill that would bring the State into compliance with the REAL ID Act.

“In the future, without a State ID option, parents won’t be able to attend a school event or participate in parent-teacher conferences, or even pick up a sick child [on base] without a passport,” Sharice Walker, with the Fairbanks North Star Borough, added.

Compounding the issue off access to military facilities is the looming threat of Alaskans being unable to pass through Transportation Security Information (TSA) checkpoints at airports without a passport.

Only 55 percent of Alaska residents have a passport or a passport card, meaning 45 percent will not be able to use one in lieu of a READ ID card. Obtaining a passport can cost up to $150 and the process of doing so can be both lengthy and cumbersome.

SB34 is unpopular in the halls of the Capitol. The objection to the initial passage of the federal legislation still permeates the overall conversation: a national ID card is an overreach of the U.S. government, in violation of the Tenth Amendment, creating a national database of private information and making the states and citizens pay for it.

And those allegations are viable. Though the REAL ID Act was passed as a safety precaution, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) objected to its requirements, noting,

If fully implemented, the law would facilitate the tracking of data on individuals and bring government into the very center of every citizen’s life. By definitively turning driver’s licenses into a form of national identity documents, Real ID would have a tremendously destructive impact on privacy. It would also impose significant administrative burdens and expenses on state governments, and it would mean higher fees, longer lines, repeat visits to the DMV, and bureaucratic nightmares for individuals.

But, regardless of the federal law’s popularity, it is federal law. Whether or not one approves of the trade off — personal information for the right to travel — does not change the fact that without a passport or a REAL ID recognized by the U.S. government, one could be barred from military bases as soon as June, and boarding an airplane as early as January.

SB34 froze after stumbling out of Senate State Affairs with only Sen. John Coghill (R-North Pole) recommending “Do Pass.”

“It becomes a pain the neck to think that the federal government can force us to surrender to their description of an ID card that is a federal ID card. Especially when it’s really supposed to be about driving,” Coghill said last month. “I think we’re supposed to be a free people and right now the fear of government is too high.”

The Database

During SB34’s first hearing in Senate Finance, Sen. Anna MacKinnon asked what about current Alaska ID cards was non-compliant with the REAL ID Act. Commissioner of the Department of Administration, Sheldon Fisher, responded,

Today, when someone submits primary documentation – primary documentation – we, the DMV, accept that on face value. And the real ID requires that we validate that information. So, whether it’s a birth certificate, whether it’s passport information, whether it’s visa information, we’re required to access certain databases to validate that that information is correct. We’re also required to take a picture at the beginning of the process… when the person presents the documents and then validate that at the end of the process so that there’s not an opportunity for a person to switch in the middle of the process and a different person present the documentation and receive the license.

Alaska State Troopers Captain Dan Lowden said that there were about five cases a month where people were “attempting to get IDs that shouldn’t be.”

He said the database is used for missing person and wanted person reports, as well as for lineups attempting to identify suspects.

Fisher said that passing legislation would allow the State another two-year waiver which would ensure that there would be “no disruption using existing licenses to get on the bases during this Summer or to access flights after January,” and that the waiver from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would be extended until final legislation could be passed.

“We’ve also been assured that if this legislation doesn’t pass that we should not expect any additional waivers,” he added.

If the legislature sits idly by, without passage of SB34, it means that travel without a passport could be prohibited before the next legislative session commences.

No waiver.

Go fish. But, you know, in state.

#AKLeg Solution: We Object!

Given the impending deadline, and looming consequences, the legislature took an admittedly horrible federal bill and — rather than acquiescing — decided to play a game of chicken.

SB34 has stalled out in Senate Finance with another hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the House passed HJR15 Sunday afternoon. The measure doesn’t do anything, except thumb a nose at the federal government objecting to the aforementioned bad REAL ID Act while doing nothing about the potential consequences to constituents (while, it should be noted, the information required is already being submitted to that dreaded database).

Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole) called the REAL ID Act another infringement of Tenth Amendment rights.

“Driver’s licenses were meant that you said you could pass a driving test of that state, and all the other requirements, and given a driver’s license. I don’t think any of us ever thought, when we went to get a driver’s license, now, that all these other things were going to happen,” she told her colleagues in support of HJR15. “But, this is really a security problem as well of privacy. We don’t know where it’s going to go. We don’t know whether or not it’s going to be contained in a warehouse of some kind. Maybe sold overseas. I mean, you just don’t know.”

“This is states’ rights. We have a right to take care of these issues ourselves,” she said.

“Do we trust government, and if so, to what extent do we trust government?” Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) added. He said the federal government, instead, declared, “Here’s a mandate. We’re not necessarily going to fund that mandate. We’re going to tell you how to do it. Oh, and, by the way, if you don’t, we’re going to threaten to withhold your citizens’ rights to travel and other things. And I don’t think that our legislature should encourage that type of relationship.”

“This whole scare tactic that you cannot fly unless you have a REAL ID is scaring Alaskans and saying, ‘Hey, we need to push this through,'” Rep. Chris Tuck said (D-Anchorage). “I think the better route is this resolution — that we fight back and say, ‘Hey, if anyone — if any state has a right to fly, the State of Alaska has a right to fly.’ We have no other way of getting in and out of villages. We have no way of being able to drive without going through Canada to get to another state.”

Valid points, for sure. But, each bears little on the fact that people could lose access to places they need to be and/or wanted to go because of the legislature’s objections according to principle.

And, I mean this with all due respect, but do they know who occupies the White House right now? Does he seem amenable to objections of state legislatures?

This might appear a popular and uncontroversial decision. It passed with just Rep. Sam Kito III (D-Juneau) dissenting and probably won’t make headlines.

Then comes June. Then comes January.

But, hey, on the bright side, at least we’re trapped here. Always look on the bright side of life.

John Aronno is a co-founder, managing editor, and award winning political writer at Alaska Commons. Aronno has had his work featured in the Huffington Post, the Anchorage Press, the Alaska Dispatch, and the Rachel Maddow Show, and is listed among the state’s top reporters on the Washington Post’s “The Fix.” He writes the weekly column “On Politics” for Alaska Commons. Aronno lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his wife, Heather Aronno, and a lot of pets.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Real ID needs to be passed by both houses and signed into law. The action to allow people to choose a Real ID card or a regular ID card alleviates the issue of privacy for those who do not want Real ID. Their procrastination is going to hurt Alaskans. The DMV believes it will take a year to put everything in place. Real ID is like a passport. Why is the government having such a difficult time with this?

  2. Because you can’t get on an airplane or apply for a passport without REAL ID now. You won’t be allowed in a lot of federal buildings either, like the Social Security office. Alaska and Hawai’i residents have a real problem on their hands. Not to mention the territories.

    Meanwhile, a lot of DMVs in a lot of mainland states have a whole lot of requirements in order to buy a REAL ID in the first place. Requirements that cost a lot of money.

    This is going to be a much, MUCH bigger issue than a lot of people suspect, and it’ll hit the Republican-dominated, Trump-led U.S. government right in a time where they REALLY don’t want it to: the 2018 election cycle.

What do you think?