Newburyport Daily News
---- — The refusal of Gov. Deval Patrick and leading Massachusetts legislators to comply with federal law on driver’s licenses will soon start to have real consequences for Bay State citizens.
State Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr is sounding the alarm that Massachusetts remains one of 12 states not in compliance with the federal Real ID law. One section of the law, passed in 2005 in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks, requires states to verify citizenship or legal immigrant status when issuing driver’s licenses. The Sept. 11 hijackers had used state-issued driver’s licenses to facilitate their plans.
After a number of delays, the Department of Homeland Security will begin to phase in the law this year. Beginning April 1, according to Tarr, residents of Massachusetts and other non-compliant states will no longer be able to use their driver’s licenses to gain entry to some federal buildings and sensitive facilities such as nuclear power plants. Beginning in 2016, Massachusetts residents would no longer be able to use their driver’s licenses to board airplanes.
“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.”
Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, also represents Newbury, Georgetown, Groveland, Rowley and West Newbury.
New Hampshire residents have been granted a bit of a reprieve. New Hampshire is one of several states granted an extension by Homeland Security for showing progress toward compliance with Real ID. New Hampshire driver’s licenses will continue to be accepted at federal facilities as long as the extension is in force.
In Massachusetts, Registrar of Motor Vehicles Celia J. Blue released a statement to our sister newspaper The Gloucester Times saying only that the Registry is “in an active dialogue with its partners at the Department of Homeland Security” and is working to “address their outstanding concerns.”
But compliance seems unlikely in the Bay State given the Legislature’s headlong rush to grant driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Supporters say the “Safe Driving Bill” currently before the Legislature will make our streets safer by assuring that illegal immigrants get driver training and meet licensing requirements. The unspoken assumption behind the proposed law is that illegal immigrants, in addition to entering the country illegally, are also currently breaking the law by driving without licenses.
With the Legislature presented an option to help law-breakers by making life more difficult for law-abiding citizens, well, Massachusetts residents had better get used to the idea of carrying passports for identification.
If Massachusetts is willing to hand out driver’s licenses to those who explicitly are neither citizens nor here legally, it’s hard to see how the state will ever be in compliance with a federal law that requires states to verify citizenship when issuing licenses.
When Real ID was being debated, we were unconvinced the law was a good idea. Our arguments fell on deaf ears and the law was passed.
Now that Real ID is the law of the land, Massachusetts ought to comply with its provisions.
“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.”