The state House last month passed a measure, H.B. 1582, to refuse participation in a program created under a 2005 law that requires state-issued IDs to meet national standards by 2008. The New Hampshire proposal has been forwarded to the Senate for further consideration.
The Granite State would be the first to refuse to comply with the federal statute, which is known as the REAL ID Act. The California Senate last year passed a bill to block the use of radio-frequency identification chips in driver's licenses, which might be required by REAL ID regulations, but the measure since has stalled.
The lawmakers behind the New Hampshire proposal argue that the federal law effectively would establish a national ID system that would threaten civil liberties. They also have voiced concerns that the law is an unfunded mandate that places an unfair financial burden on states to comply.
But others are worried about the consequences of rejecting the federal statute. The Union Leader in Manchester, N.H., reported that at a Monday Senate committee hearing, several lawmakers voiced concern that state residents would be forced to use passports to board domestic airplane flights if REAL ID is rejected.
In written testimony submitted to the committee, Jim Harper, the director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, said it would be a grave mistake for New Hampshire lawmakers to stick with the REAL ID program out of fear that they would lose $3 million in federal grant money to comply with the law.
Harper cited a report released last year by a Virginia task force that estimated full compliance with REAL ID in the Old Dominion State would cost as much as $63 million per year. He also noted an estimate from the National Conference of State Legislatures that it would cost $9 billion for states to implement REAL ID nationally.
"Because it is one of the first states to be offered a token of federal support for REAL ID compliance, New Hampshire will be a national leader one way or another," he said. "It may set the standard for protection of freedom, civil liberties and privacy. Or it may become a premier example of how a state legislature becomes a servant of the federal government."
In a telephone interview, David Williams, the vice president of policy at Citizens Against Government Waste, said he hopes other states take notice and that New Hampshire will not be the one to "show up at the party." He doubts the federal government would require New Hampshire residents to use passports for domestic flights if the state's IDs fail to meet federal standards.
"This is fantastic news, and we hope that other states follow their lead," Williams said of the New Hampshire bill. "We also hope the federal government is listening to the people. Let's hope that this is the first domino that falls."