Leahy Joins Effort To Fix REAL ID Law

WASHINGTON – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is again part of an effort to fix problems in the REAL ID Act of 2005 that have led many states to balk at participating in what critics say is a thinly disguised national ID program built around a national database that would be vulnerable to identity theft.

Leahy is a leading cosponsor of a new bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate on June 15 by Senator Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii).  Senator George Voinovich (R-Ohio) is the chief Republican cosponsor.  The new bill would implement the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations to enhance the security of driver’s licenses while fixing many of the most troubling aspects of the REAL ID Act of 2005. 

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Leahy in May 2007 held one of the first congressional hearings on the privacy and civil liberties concerns raised about REAL ID in Vermont and many other states. 

“Four years after it was rushed into law, it is clear that the REAL ID Act has been a failure – creating unnecessary red tape at the DMV, slapping unreasonable financial burdens on the states, and leaving every American vulnerable to identity theft,” said Leahy.  “I am pleased to join this effort to forge a workable and affordable solution that will reduce driver’s license fraud, protect Americans’ personal information, and save Vermont and other states many millions in administrative costs.” 

The new bill is part of an ongoing effort by Congress, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the nation’s governors and state legislatures, and privacy and civil liberties groups to repeal the controversial REAL ID law and replace it with a streamlined system for strengthening and standardizing state-issued driver’s licenses.  All states have made progress in improving identification security, but many are unable or unwilling to fully implement REAL ID. 

A report based on a nationwide survey of state DMVs concluded in September 2006 that compliance with REAL ID would cost more than $11 billion over five years, would have a negative impact on DMV services, and would impose unrealistic burdens on states to comply with the law.  As a result, ten states have enacted laws prohibiting compliance with REAL ID and several others, including Vermont, have passed anti-REAL ID resolutions.

Congress passed REAL ID as part of an emergency spending bill in 2005 without hearings or formal vetting of the proposal.  REAL ID established requirements for state-issued driver’s licenses that must be met in order for the documents to be accepted as identification by the federal government.  Leahy noted that the current requirements amount to a substantial and unnecessary federal intrusion into a traditional state function.  The mandates have proven to be unworkable and overly burdensome for state officials and widely unpopular among citizens.  The new bill calls for enhanced security and integrity of driver’s licenses and identification cards while addressing the concerns the states and citizens have with the REAL ID Act.  

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