ANNAPOLIS – The O’Malley administration on Tuesday said it will try to meet a May 2008 federal deadline for tightening security in issuing drivers’ licenses and other state identification.
Under the federal law called the Real ID Act, a range of measures drafted by the Department of Homeland Security must be used to safeguard the issuance of state ID cards and drivers’ licenses that would be used in boarding airplanes or entering federal facilities.
Gov. Martin O’Malley’s nominee to be secretary of transportation, John D. Porcari, told members of the House Judiciary Committee that the administration will try to meet the federal deadline, and will try to do so without disrupting service at Motor Vehicle Administration branches.
“We want to strike a balance to be fair to all our customers, make sure customer service doesn’t suffer and we’re compliant with federal standards,” Porcari said.
The strict new federal measures will bar persons holding non-compliant identification from boarding aircraft, entering nuclear power plants and federal facilities among other high-security locations. The Real ID Act was based on recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission to standardize documentation verification of licenses across the nation.
John T. Kuo, administrator of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, told legislators the state needs to act immediately if it hopes to comply with the federal deadline. He recalled how terrorist Hani Hanjour, one of the 9/11 terrorists, fraudulently obtained an identity card at a Motor Vehicle Administration branch in Beltsville as part of his plan to crash a plane into the Pentagon.
Efforts to comply with the Real ID Act have been hindered by state laws that run counter to the federal law. One of the major changes needed for compliance includes a provision prohibiting illegal immigrants from obtaining ID cards. Maryland is currently one of seven states that issues ID cards to persons who are not lawful residents.
Another obstacle is the requirement for background checks on MVA employees. While background checks are administered to new employees, legal authority is needed for the state to screen employees hired in the past.
Also, Maryland residents are currently allowed to receive a drivers’ license without a Social Security number. Social Security numbers would be required under the new law.
Still, Maryland has already put in place many of the new measures. For instance, Maryland drivers’ licenses currently feature digital photographs of the driver, the MVA stores digital images of documents used to prove identity and the MVA uses advanced technology for document verification.
Under the law, identification cards that are not in compliance will be clearly marked as such. Also, other states will have access to Maryland’s motor vehicle database, which will include drivers’ histories. Costs involved in reaching compliance with the new federal regulations were estimated to be $150 million, but Kuo said that figure was “too high.”