HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock reasserted his opposition Friday to stringent federal driver’s license rules resulting from a 2005 anti-terrorism law, telling Homeland Security officials that Montana already has increased the security of its licenses and identification cards.
In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the Democratic governor asked federal officials not to restrict Montanans’ from using their driver’s licenses as Homeland Security begins its first phase of enforcing the REAL ID Act.
Bullock’s letter was in response to a December notice from Homeland Security officials that said Montana, 12 other states and two U.S. territories were not compliant with the law or had not received extensions delaying its implementation.
The law set standards for licenses and identifications as a way to fight terrorism and prevent identity theft. Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses would have layers of security, such as verification of birth certificates, Social Security numbers and immigration status.
Many states, including Montana, opposed it as being expensive and threatening the privacy of the cardholders.
On Monday, the notification period begins for the first phase of Homeland Security enforcing REAL ID: barring access to those without the proper identification from restricted areas of the Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Washington, D.C. That will eventually expand to restrictions on access to all federal buildings that require identification, and possibly commercial flights after 2016, pending a review.
The Homeland Security notice said Montana had met eight of the security measures laid out in the law, but was still not following 31 others. Bullock responded by listing 17 measures the state has taken, from verifying the lawful status of applicants to maintaining a secure database with the state Motor Vehicle Division.
Bullock’s office called the December notice from Homeland Security the latest effort to force the state to implement REAL ID.
“I have full confidence in the measures we have in place to ensure the security of our licenses,” Bullock wrote.
Bullock did not request an extension for the state in implementing the federal law, but said the measures the state has taken makes its driver’s licenses secure.
“I again ask that the department not take any steps that would penalize the ability of Montanans to use their secure, valid Montana driver licenses for federal identification purposes and commercial air travel,” he wrote to Johnson.
Attorney General Tim Fox, whose agency oversees the Motor Vehicle Division, called the state’s driver’s license “one of the most secure in the nation.”
The Montana Legislature in 2007 unanimously voted against implementation of the REAL ID Act, calling it “a national identification card” that attempts to “commandeer the political machinery o the states and to require them to be the agents of the federal government.”
Then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s re-election campaign ad in 2008 featured the Democrat firing a shotgun at clay pigeons branded with a federal license.
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