Gazette opinion: The state’s rights issue in your wallet

2014-07-24T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: The state’s rights issue in your wallet The Billings Gazette
July 24, 2014 12:00 am

Montana won another round this week in the state’s fight against onerous requirements of the federal REAL ID Act. Gov. Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox persuaded the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to keep accepting Montana-issued driver’s licenses as valid identification.

Most Montanans probably didn’t know that their state-issued driver’s license was in danger of being rejected as identification at federal buildings and at airport security.

In fact, this is at least the third time Montana leaders have had to fend off federal threats to reject Montana driver’s licenses for not complying will all aspects of a 2005 law Congress passed to fight terrorism.

It’s been an odd series of bureaucratic skirmishes.

Montana refuses to implement to REAL ID, but has independently incorporated numerous security enhancements into how it issues driver’s licenses and into the license card itself. Bullock listed those security measures in a letter he sent in January to Jeh Johnson, secretary of homeland security.

The Department of Homeland Security, following dictates of federal law, repeatedly responds that it cannot exempt Montana from the law, but will treat the state’s refusal as a request for an extension of time to comply.

In March of 2008, then Attorney General Mike McGrath pointed out that “it would be ridiculous to penalize Montana travelers with secondary screening or additional document requirements when we have one of the most advanced, secure licenses in the nation.” The DHS responded by granting an extension till Dec. 31, 2009.

So in 2009, then Attorney General Steve Bullock went to bat for Montana and got another extension. This week, DHS said Montana has until Oct. 10, 2015 to comply.

Back in 2007, the Montana Legislature voted unanimously – all 150 lawmakers – to reject REAL ID. So Bullock and Fox are following state law while DHS is following federal law.

According to a DHS letter Bullock received last week, Montana is deemed to be in compliance with 26 requirements of REAL ID, but the department needs more information to determine if the state is complying with 13 other requirements.

“For us, REAL ID raises serious concerns about the extensive collection of their personal and private information by the federal government,” Bullock said.

But the feds haven’t recognized that this costly, unnecessary mandate shouldn’t apply to Montana, they’ve only pushed the deadline back.

According to the Associated Press, Montana is among 15 states and two territories not in compliance with REAL ID. It is time to revisit this anti-terrorism law enacted after 9/11 during the early years of the Iraq War. While Congress remains incapable of legislating needed changes, Montana and DHS continue this awkward dance of refusing to comply and granting more time to comply.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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