Feds to ‘Rethink’ License Mandate

Thomas Frank, USA Today, January 22, 2009

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday afternoon that she will “rethink” a program that requires every state to issue more secure driver’s licenses by the end of the year.

The new licenses, required under a 2005 federal law, aim to prevent criminals and potential terrorists from getting fake IDs. But the licenses have been opposed by many governors, who cite the cost. Added opposition comes from the American Civil Liberties Union, which says the cards are, in effect, a national ID card.

“It really has taken the form of a huge unfunded mandate on states which are struggling with huge cuts right now,” Napolitano said Thursday, one day after she was sworn in as head of the third-largest federal department. Napolitano, the governor of Arizona until Tuesday, noted that she had signed a bill in June barring the state from complying with the license law.

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Washington state has been offering residents “enhanced” driver’s licenses that can be used in place of a passport to enter the USA from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. The enhanced license, which is voluntary and slightly more expensive than a standard license, requires proof of citizenship and identity. It contains a radio identification tag that allows Customs officials to read the information on the license electronically.

The enhanced license differs from licenses envisioned under the Real ID law, which sets minimum standards for each state. Critics such as the ACLU have said the two types of licenses are basically the same.

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