EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 8, 2014

Inaction on driver's licenses threatens ID use

Massachusetts remains one of 12 states not in compliance with the law

By Sean Horgan
Staff Writer

---- — State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr yesterday repeated his insistence that Gov. Deval Patrick bring Massachusetts into compliance with the 2005 federal law stiffening requirements on the issuance of driver’s licenses. Inaction could keep state residents from everyday acts, such as using their licenses as IDs when boarding airplanes or entering some federal facilities.

Massachusetts remains one of 12 states not in compliance with the law that was passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and is aimed at strengthening the integrity of states’ driver’s licenses and state-issued identification — most specifically by demanding that states verify citizenship before issuing the licenses.

“That doesn’t mean that our driver’s licenses won’t be valid in Massachusetts as a driver’s license,” Tarr said Friday. “But it means the federal government no longer has to accept them as of April for identification purposes. It means a lot, in my opinion, that a federal agency wouldn’t recognize a Massachusetts driver’s license.”

For example: Beginning April 1, according to Tarr, residents of states not in compliance with the federal law will not be able to use only their state driver’s license as an accepted form of identification access to some federal buildings and sensitive facilities, such as nuclear power plants.

In 2016, residents from states still not in compliance will need to show another form of accepted identification, such as a passport, along with their licenses to be able to board a plane for air travel.

There are 4.75 million licensed drivers in Massachusetts.

The federal law requires that states require proof of U.S. citizenship from license applicants before issuing their driver’s license. Foreign applicants for state driver’s licenses must show they are in this country legally before a state may issue them a driver’s license.

Licenses from the states that are in compliance will include a star to show security inspectors that the bearer has proven U.S. citizenship or is in the country legally.

“The reason for this law is 18-of-the-19 9/11 terrorists collectively had 30 state-issued driver’s licenses that they used to gain access to the instruments they used to commit their terrorists acts.” Tarr said.

Last March, Tarr and other Massachusetts Republicans wrote a letter to Patrick urging the governor to bring the state within compliance of the law.

“We’ve had no response,” Tarr said. “We have a right to know from the (Patrick) administration whether it’s going to do what it takes to come into compliance or are we going to continue to be an outlier and, if so, is the administration making serious attempts to challenge the law. The point remains that we’re still going to be an outlier in terms of the recognized integrity of our driver’s licenses.”

Tarr said the governor must move quickly to clarify the matter.

“It’s a matter of public safety,” Tarr said. “It’s a matter of convenience and it’s a matter of Massachusetts citizens being recognized in the same way that citizens in the rest of the country will be after April.”

Patrick’s office passed along a request for comment to Registrar of Motor Vehicles Celia J. Blue, who released a statement saying only that the Registry of Motor Vehicles is “in an active dialogue with its partners at the Department of Homeland Security” and is working to “address their outstanding concerns.”

Enforcement of the law — known as the Real ID Law — initially was set to begin in 2008 and the Department of Homeland Security delayed enforcement on four separate occasions.

Previously, officials in Massachusetts and other non-compliant states said they have resisted incorporating the law’s measures on the grounds of privacy, expense and states’ rights.