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National ID card legislation appears poorly conceived

Citizen Times | May 12 2005

There is a time and a place to debate a national identification card. Or perhaps we should say there was, because just such a card was tucked away in an unrelated bill that cleared the Senate Tuesday night.

A spending bill totaling around $82 billion was approved 100-0 by the Senate. We don’t have much to say about the bill, designed mainly to fund efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq for the next few months, except to note it brings spending on those fronts to around $300 billion.

With a price that high, if we continue to hear stories about troops without adequate body and/or vehicle armor, somebody ought to be facing jail time.

A good question is why such a bill would have new driver’s license rules in them, rules that Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., says create national identification cards.

It’s a good question to which no one seems to have a good answer.

Certainly, it’s appalling that Congress has in effect put the legislation horse before the debate cart. The license rules, following those in the REAL ID Act, appear to be a full deck of headaches for the states.

Ironically, in principle there is little opposition to uniformity in driver’s licenses, and if there’s opposition to fighting the very real threat of terrorism on U.S. soil — the main thrust behind the new rules — we’ve yet to see it.

The legislation has garnered opposition from immigration activists, but the most vocal opponents are privacy advocates and the states themselves.

Wisconsin Republican Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, a sponsor of the REAL ID Act, said, “The REAL ID is vital to preventing foreign terrorists from hiding in plain sight while conducting their operations and planning attacks.’’

Sen. Alexander, though, points out that the law of unintended consequences will be on the loose here. He noted that Division of Motor Vehicles examiners, trained to see if you can park properly, will be put in the position of figuring out if you’re al-Qaida. The Washington Post said the rules “will turn motor vehicle departments across the country into de facto enforcers of immigration law.”

National Governors Association Vice Chairman Mike Huckabee, Republican governor of Arkansas, said, “If more than half of the governors agree we’re not going down without a fight on this, Congress will have to consider changing’’ the legislation. Aside from the hassle, some states fear this will be yet another unfunded mandate.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois glumly pointed out that, “If you think a trip to the Division of Motor Vehicles is a bad experience today, wait until the REAL ID takes effect.’’

REAL ID Act mandates, slated to take effect in three years, require a card with “machine-readable technology,’’ and such a card would be required for air or rail travel or to enter federal buildings.

This raises a slew of questions, such as the obvious one of what people who don’t own a car do about this, to more troubling ones like how such rules would be of any deterrence to someone who’s already decided to blow themselves up.

We don’t have the answers. What we have is legislation dropped in our laps, slid into an $82 billion spending deck that had to be passed.

We do know one thing: This is no way to move legislation of this import forward.

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