MD Faces Music on Drivers Licenses

Maryland Motor Vehicle Administrator John Kuo and Transportation Secretary John Porcari testified jointly in Annapolis on December 16, 2008, that a lawful status requirement for driver’s licenses was necessary in Maryland, and asked for an emergency response by the legislature. I blogged at the time about the growing Maryland discomfort with their own policies in What Illegal Immigration Has Got to Do with Driver Licenses: Maryland’s Lament.

The two men — appointed by Gov. O’Malley (D), who initially and staunchly defended Maryland’s welcome mat for those that could not prove lawful status and who criticized the federal REAL ID law — provided evidence that the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles was being overrun by out-of-state, and out-of-country, requests for Maryland driver’s licenses and ID cards. Both Kuo and Porcari further discussed the unintended consequences of Maryland’s loose license standards, saying that the state had become a magnet for fraud, crime, and depleted health and education budget resources.

Securing ID issuance cuts down on DMV fraud and corruption, and exposes criminality

Maryland’s policies were also about to put Maryland out of compliance with REAL ID, whose deadlines pertaining to lawful presence kick in on January 1, 2010.

In contrast, states that have moved towards significant compliance measures towards REAL ID tell me they have seen a reduction in application fraud, more streamlined processing, and have caught an increased number of criminals and corrupt employees since they have undertaken REAL ID measures.

Both men asked for action to stop the run on the DMV before the General Assembly shut down for 2008. Their request was left unanswered. Interest in the issue grew into a mountain of discontented commentary from Maryland residents, some furious that they were finding that federal authorities were already not accepting Maryland driver’s licenses as valid forms of IDs, and others outraged by what they associated as increased crime with increased unlawful presence in their state.

It took four months and a new legislative session for the bill originally proposed by Frederick County Sen. David Brinkley to morph into the compromise measure passed in near-emergency circumstances late in the day on April 14, 2009. The final enrolled bill, House Bill 387, is what insiders say the governor is likely to sign. After a late night push for compromise and a threat of a special session by Gov. O’Malley, a bill was passed that:

  1. Permits the current 350,000 illegal immigrants who currently have Maryland licenses to keep them until July 1, 2015. (Section 16-122 (A)(2))

  2. Creates a two-tiered issuance system until July 1, 2015. New applicants that cannot prove legal status can obtain a driver license up to July 1, 2015, but thereafter cannot. (Section 16-301.1) After July 1, 2015, such licenses will not be compliant with federal law for use to board commercial airplanes or enter certain federal facilities under the REAL ID Act. (Section 16-122(D)(1)).

  3. Technically end the out-of-state program April 19, 2009 (Section 16-122(A)(1)(II)). The reality is that the bill will not be signed – in all likelihood – until the end of May 2009, giving another five weeks during which applicants need not prove lawful status to obtain a driver’s license. However, since Maryland applicants must set up an appointment to apply for a license, there should be no additional “runs on the bank.”

  4. Adds in criminal penalties for fraud in applying for or using a driver’s license or ID, with application fraud receiving a fine up to $2,500 and up to three years imprisonment. (Section 16-301(CC)).

  5. Is deemed an emergency measure “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public health or safety, has been passed by a yea and nay vote supported by three-fifths of all the members elected to each of the two Houses of the General Assembly, and shall take effect from the date it is enacted” (Section 4). In reality, since the bill will likely not take effect immediately, the emergency nature of the treatment of the bill is yet to be seen. However, upon passage of the bill, the Maryland DMV began canceling out-of-state application interviews scheduled for after June 1, 2009. Within a day, 8,000 interviews were in the pipeline to be canceled.

What is most interesting is that the Maryland legislature was exceedingly careful to assure that their law was in full compliance with the REAL ID Act. For a policy and fiscal analysis conducted on the original bill by the state government, see House Bill 387 Vehicle Laws - Lawful Status in the United States - Material Compliance with Federal Requirements, drafted initially in February 2009. For example:

  1. In defining “lawful status” and “temporary lawful status,” the bill states that it means “that the applicant has lawful status in accordance with regulations adopted by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security” (Sections 11-127.1 and 11-165.1).

  2. The driver’s license and ID cards issued must be compliant with the following REAL ID requirements:

    1. assures that Maryland produce a “Security Plan” to cover the physical security of the cards;
    2. privacy of personally identifiable information;
    3. access control and background checks for Maryland DMV workers (Section 16-122(D))

  3. Maryland is to comply with the REAL ID requirement of one driver/one license (Section 16.122(C)), a key element of the 9/11 Commission findings on terrorist travel and abuse of the driver’s license system by the 9/11 hijackers, who had 30 state-issued IDs amongst the 19 hijackers.

What is equally noteworthy is the outpouring of support for the measure by Maryland residents. In a small and anecdotal measure of interest in the issue, the Washington Post story Md. Lawmakers Propose Compromise on Immigrant Licenses on April 13, 2009 – published on the eve of the compromise – garnered 34 comments, with 30 strongly supporting the notion that people here unlawfully be barred from receiving Maryland driver’s licenses. A Frederick (Md.) News-Post story, License law dominates final day in a local news source counted at 44 comments, with 40 in favor of the license law, and four against. In 2007, a national Zogby poll indicated that 70 percent of Americans were in favor of more secure ID issuance, and were willing to make sacrifices to support those measures. If Maryland is any indication of grassroots sentiment, those numbers could very well be rising, not receding.

Maryland has done something important: admitted they need the requirements of REAL ID and lawful presence for the good of the state. Will the federal government listen? Or will it ignore Maryland’s important strides by supporting legislation that guts secure ID issuance? With whispers that a measure to effectively repeal REAL ID will be introduced in the Senate any day now, we shall see.