Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, U.S. Senator Susan Collins today urged the State of Maine to take the simple steps necessary to ensure that individuals with a Maine-issued drivers’ licenses can continue to board aircraft and use their drivers’ licenses for other purposes that require a government issued ID, after the REAL ID regulations take effect on May 11, 2008. Senator Collins, who remains concerned about the cost and privacy issues associated with REAL ID, convinced the Department of Homeland Security to provide states—whether or not they plan to comply with REAL ID—an 18-month extension of this impending rule. In addition, the Senator worked to ensure that states do not have to promise to comply with REAL ID in order to qualify for the automatic waiver.

Maine is one of just four states that have yet to request an extension. To receive an automatic extension, the State need only send a one-line letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security making this request.

Earlier today, the Maine Civil Liberties Union sent out a release suggesting that Senator Collins is asking the state to ignore the will of the Maine Legislature and adhere to REAL ID. The MCLU’s claims are completely false. A DHS waiver has nothing to do with Maine’s future intentions regarding REAL ID. Rather, the waiver only ensures that Mainers can continue to exercise their fundamental civil liberties – such as the right to travel and the right to meet with their government officials in federal buildings. Without this waiver, on May 11, 2008, these basic rights are likely to be burdened as Mainers experience inconvenience and delays when trying to board commercial aircraft or enter federal buildings.

Senator Collins said, “I remain concerned about unresolved cost and privacy issues associated with REAL ID, and I will continue to work toward resolution of these issues. But the reality is that Maine airports will suffer major delays and Maine passengers will be treated like second-class citizens if the State of Maine does not request the extension that I negotiated. With a simple letter, Maine can obtain this automatic waiver without having to agree to comply with REAL ID. I strongly urge Maine to request this waiver.”

A copy of Senator Collins’ letter is as follows:

February 29, 2008

The Honorable John Baldacci
1 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0001

Dear Governor Baldacci:

I am writing to bring to your attention the rapidly approaching March 31 deadline by which Maine must request an extension for compliance with the secure driver’s license provisions of the REAL ID Act of 2005. Unless Maine requests this extension, thousands of Maine residents will experience substantial delays at airports and may have difficulty accessing federal buildings to request benefits or meet with their representatives in Congress.

In March 2007, I negotiated with the Department of Homeland Security to secure a regulatory provision that would extend the deadline for compliance with REAL ID through December 31, 2009. This extension was included in the Department’s final regulations to allow states more time to evaluate these regulations. Requesting this extension does not commit a state in any way to taking further steps. In addition, I specifically asked the Department to make the process for requesting this extension as simple as possible, and the Department has done so.

I have contacted the Department to confirm the procedures to follow to take advantage of the extension. A letter, from you, to the Secretary of Homeland Security simply stating, “On behalf of the State of Maine, I respectfully request an extension of the May 2008 deadline for complying with the REAL ID rule,” will be sufficient to extend the deadline for compliance through December 31, 2009. The state of Oklahoma, a state that has passed legislation similar to Maine’s, has requested an extension using this language and the Department has granted it. Your letter need not, nor should it, make reference to Maine’s intent to comply, or not comply, with the REAL ID regulations.

If the state does not make this request, I am deeply concerned that beginning on May 11, 2008, Mainers across the country will experience substantial inconvenience as they try to travel or use their driver’s licenses to enter federal buildings. Jeff Monroe, Director of Ports and Transportation for the City of Portland, told me Maine residents are likely to experience exponential increases in wait times for airport security screening as Mainers without alternative photo identification are subjected to additional screening before being allowed to board their planes. The Portland Jetport, in particular, does not have the capacity to conduct secondary screenings for large numbers of passengers who only have Maine driver’s licenses.

I continue to have concerns about the costs and privacy implications of the REAL ID program, many of which I know you share. However, requesting this extension does not commit Maine to the implementation of REAL ID. Making this request involves no cost to the state of Maine, but it will save the citizens we serve a great deal of aggravation, inconvenience, and frustration come May 11, 2008. I urge you to make this request as soon as possible.