2017-05-18 / Editorial

Travel crisis averted

Beyond the Headlines
by Sen. Justin Chenette

Crisis averted. If the Legislature and the governor failed to act, a bureaucratic nightmare would have prevented Mainers from using their state IDs and driver’s licenses to board domestic flights, starting in January 2018.

After the Maine Senate and House passed a bill in a rare display of bipartisanship to end a decade-old policy in Maine prohibiting the secretary of state from compliance with the federal Real ID Act of 2005, the governor signed it into law. Real ID is a federal program that mandated states to add additional security features and protocols in the issuance of state identification cards and driver’s licenses.

Maine has been just one in five states that did not comply with federal law.

Since the mandate was in place, the federal government agreed to turn a blind eye to Maine’s noncompliance. This was because each year Maine applied for waivers from implementing the new system. The Feds most recently gave the state of Maine an ultimatum in January, when enforcement action began. Since then, Maine driver’s licenses and ID cards have been deemed illegitimate by the federal government, a designation that has prevented Mainers from accessing federal facilities – including veterans who missed medical appointments as they were turned away from veterans administration hospitals. Firefighters and police officers have been stymied in efforts to obtain federal certifications.

Continued noncompliance from Maine even threatened domestic air travel, with the federal government stating that TSA would not allow Mainers to use state IDs to board domestic flights, starting early next year. This was unacceptable to those of us who view this as a simple course correction. Federal mandates are just that – mandates. There are times when we are able to push back and have our own rules at the state level, but usually it involved forgoing federal funds to pay for essential programs or in this case cause interstate air travel headaches.

The Legislature also wanted to include provisions into the law giving Mainers the option to opt out of Real IDcompliant licenses. Those who opted out would still be credentialed to drive, but their IDs would continue to be deemed illegitimate by federal authorities. Mainers who opt out would be required to obtain a U.S. Passport or some other form of ID to access federal properties or board flights. While I don’t see the need to opt-out, there were privacy advocates that had concerns over a one size fits all model for IDs. This gives Mainers a choice for unrestricted travel.

The bill to bring us into compliance was from my Senate Democratic Caucus colleagues Sen. Bill Diamond. On issues like this, I look to him as the expert having served as Maine’s secretary of state previously. His leadership on this issue is greatly appreciated and I’m thankful to work closely with him in the Senate.

So you can breathe an air of relief that you your ID is valid and are free to travel as you like. Maine veterans’ access to VA hospitals won’t be impeded. Maine businesses’ ability to do contract work for the federal government will continue as planned. And Maine police and firefighters can continue to enter federal facilities that is required to obtain or renew their mandatory certifications to keep us safe.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is owner of Chenette Media LLC, a multimedia public relations company, and is the president/ CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook.com/JustinChenette.com.

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