By JONATHAN N. CRAWFORD, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - A pending federal law requiring states to meet stricter standards in the issuance of driver's licenses and state identification cards came under fire in the General Assembly Thursday from legislators who fear it will cost too much.
Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery, said that implementation of the new federal law in 2008 could cost the state over $150 million and would not protect the state from terrorist attacks, as the tighter regulations are intended to do.
The costs would be passed on to residents and by some estimates could raise the fee of a driver's license to $195 from the current $45, Forehand said.
"This [provision] is not against having security because we already have [stricter measures in place]. It's about the money. Show us the money," Forehand said.
Forehand expressed her opposition to the new law, called the Real ID Act, at a hearing Thursday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which was considering a joint resolution she introduced which asks the Congress to repeal the law.
The law was passed in 2005 and goes into effect in May of next year. It requires greater security for offices where identification is issued, conducting background checks on persons issuing IDs and adopting advanced technology to verify identity documents.
People who don't have IDs that meet the federal standards will be barred from boarding aircraft, entering nuclear power plants and federal facilities among other high-security locations.
Opposition to the new law among the states has been growing in recent months, though Maine is so far the only state that has passed a resolution calling for its repeal.
Maryland has already put in place many of the new measures. For instance, Maryland driver's licenses currently feature digital photographs of the driver, the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) stores digital images of documents used to prove identity and the MVA uses advanced technology for document verification.
Appearing at Thursday's hearing in support of Forehand's resolution were representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and a privacy protection group.
However, Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford, told the committee that she believes the measure could be effective in thwarting terrorist attacks.
"In the last four months three Marylanders were killed by three illegal immigrants with expired visas. But they had valid licenses," Jacobs said. "It's absurd to me that we aren't tougher." Jacobs added that the stricter regulations of the Real ID Act could have prevented the terrorists from destroying the World Trade Center.
Forehand said she hopes Secretary of Transportation John D. Porcari would take a cautious approach in implementing the regulations.
"He can get things ready in case we have to do this, but we do not need to go full blast," she said. But at a briefing in last month, Porcari said the state needs to move quickly to implement the requirements of the Real ID Act when they are finally published by the federal government.