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Oregon aims to put Real ID on fast-track

McMinnville News-Register | February 26, 2007

Across the United States, a diverse coalition of states, from left-leaning Massachusetts to right-leaning Arizona, Georgia and Wyoming, are rebelling against the Real ID Act. But Oregon isn't one of them.

The 2005 federal law calls for national standardization of driver's licenses by May 2008, effectively creating a national citizenship card. And in Oregon, lawmakers are intent on figuring out how to comply, not how to avoid complying.

On Thursday, citizens with strong feelings of all stripes packed two hearing rooms to sound off.

The issue was Senate Bill 424, sponsored by the Mount Hood Democrat who chairs the Senate Business, Transportation and Workforce Committee. After two hours of testimony, he assured the audience definitive action would be taken.

"We will be doing something," Sen. Rick Metsger said. "If we did nothing, we'd have done something, because at this moment, the federal government is going to require us. If we don't do it, then that is also an affirmative action that could be detrimental. Maybe some of us will get calls from 85-year old World War II veterans who want to know how come they can't get on an airplane."

If that prompts you to ask what boarding a plane has to do with a driver's license, it's because a license issued in accordance with the Real ID Act would, for all intents and purposes, function as a national identification card.

Whether that's a proper name for it is itself a topic of debate. Rep. Linda Flores, a Clackamas County Republican who's introduced her own version of implementing language in the House, said state compliance with the federal act would actually "eliminate the need" for a national ID card.

"It's kind of in the eye of the beholder," said Caroline Fredrickson of the American Civil Liberties Union's head office in Washington, D.C. "This looks like a national ID card, it acts like one and it sounds like one. I don't think there's any question that it's a national ID card."

For citizens, it would mean this: The next time you renew your driver's license, you will have to produce documents that prove you are who you say you are and you are in the United States legally.

The federal government is still working on the details, but birth certificates and Social Security cards are considered likely candidates. States aren't being formally required to implement Real ID, but citizens in states that don't might find themselves unable to board interstate flights or enter federal buildings.

The issue has brought together unlikely bedfellows as opponents and equally unlikely bedfellows as proponents.

Most of the issues are philosophical, logistical or practical, but one of them is financial.

Last fall, a study commissioned by the National Governors Association, National Conference of State Legislatures and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators said nationwide implementation figured to run more than $11 billion. And the federal government has made no move to allocate money to fund its mandate.

Jim Ludwick of McMinnville, who heads Oregonians for Immigration Reform, told lawmakers Thursday that Oregon is one of only a few states that neither verifies social security numbers nor requires proof of citizenship when issuing licenses.

As a result, said Ludwick and OFIR vice-president Rick Hickey, a Salem insurance agent, Oregon is becoming a mecca for illegal immigration, identify theft and the meth trade.

"Years after 9/11, where we know that terrorists, drug dealers, rapists, meth dealers want photo ID," Hickey told the committee. "When they get pulled over by the police, they want to make sure the police do not have justifiable cause to continue with an investigation."

Some opponents make the opposite argument.

The ACLU's Oregon legislative director, Andrea Meyer, told the committee that Real ID is "a gold mind for identity thieves." With so many personal documents scanned and made available to DMV offices nationwide, the risk would increase, she said.

State Sen. Larry George, a Sherwood Republican whose district includes Newberg, echoed those concerns.

"I'm very concerned about the security issues and privacy issues," he said. He termed Real ID an unfunded mandate, and he wondered why state officials are seeking legislative authority to implement it when the federal government hasn't even issued rules for doing so yet.

"Why are we deciding to go forward with this when we don't even have federal rules out?" George asked. "What would be the problem with waiting?"

Rick Bennett from the Oregon branch of the AARP raised a more practical issue.

He said members of his group are becoming increasingly concerned about Real ID. Many, he said, would have a tough time locating birth certificates, particularly if they weren't born in Oregon.

Insofar as tightening requirements for Oregon driver's licenses is concerned, state officials aren't waiting for Real ID.

In July, the state extended its contract with Digimarc, a Beaverton-based company responsible for producing two-thirds of the driver's licenses in the United States and national identification cards in more than 20 foreign countries. It plans to work with Digimarc to start using facial recognition software as a fraud prevention tool.

Back during the 2005 session, legislators approved SB 640, a biometrics bill that's paved the way for DMV to use such high-tech methods for identifying customers.

Spokesman David House said the move has nothing to do with the Real ID Act. He said it is being done to implement the Oregon legislation, which has a mid-2008 deadline.

"We're still a year and a half away," House said. "We expect to have facial recognition in place right about when the legislation calls for it - July 1, 2008."

He said the software can be used with photos already on file and cameras already in use.

There isn't any need to make a special trip once the program starts, he said. You only need to wait until your regular renewal date.

The deadline for implementing Real ID is two months earlier.

State officials testified the requirements are much more onerous, thus promise to be much more expensive to implement. And they expressed doubt they could meet the federal deadline.

DMV administrator Lorna Young told the committee technological barriers would make timely implementation virtually impossible, and said the cost of eventual compliance would be "considerable."

A few days before Thursday's hearing, Metsger's office revealed a pre-emptive strike against the financial burden, however: an amendment to the main bill that would prohibit implementation unless the feds cough up the money.



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