Coalition stands firm in support of national ID law

A coalition that supports a 2005 law mandating nationwide standards for driver's licenses claims that it is not fazed by the wave of federal and state lawmakers who have turned against the statute during the past year.

More than a dozen states already have decided that they will not comply with the so-called REAL ID Act. Last week, the Senate also rejected a proposal to direct $300 million to help states meet the requirements of the law.

The Coalition for a Secure Driver's License, a nonprofit that was started by families affected by the 2001 terrorist attacks, is one of the few groups still rallying support for the implementation of REAL ID. Spokesman Neil Berro said in a Tuesday interview that he was not deterred by the Senate inaction.

President Bush did not reserve any money for REAL ID compliance in his February budget proposal. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a floor speech that the federal government should be responsible for bearing some of the cost if it is going to impose such a mandate on the states. He tried to attach his funding proposal to the homeland security appropriations measure for fiscal 2008, which the Senate passed.

The Homeland Security Department estimated earlier this year that it will cost states as much as $23 billion to implement the law. The American Civil Liberties Union and others that oppose REAL ID called Alexander's amendment a "sucker money" proposal and argued that it would have done little to help states comply with a flawed statute.

Privacy advocates have charged that REAL ID effectively would create an invasive national ID system. State legislators who have rejected the law also call it an unfunded federal mandate.

Berro said those who oppose REAL ID have capitalized on fears about intrusions on civil liberties. But he said potential terrorist attacks are a more serious threat to those freedoms.

Legislation to repeal the law has been introduced in both chambers of Congress. A bill by Sens. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and John Sununu, R-N.H., would reinstitute a negotiated rulemaking process to develop federal driver's licensing standards.

According to Berro, the country cannot afford to move backward on the issue. He cited a Zogby poll conducted earlier this year that indicated the majority of Americans actually favor stronger ID standards.

"The common-sense sensibility of most Americans was reflected in that poll," he said.

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