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State Real ID rebellion: Here to stay?

Officials representing two states that have rejected the plan rally for other opponents to raise their voices and stop the next administration from enforcing the contentious ID card rules.

WASHINGTON--Politicians from states opposed to the U.S. government's Real ID plan had one message on Wednesday: It's not too late to turn this ship around.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester U.S. Senate

Mark Sanford, the Republican governor of South Carolina, and Jon Tester, a Democratic U.S. senator from Montana, on Wednesday delivered a now-familiar bruising to the controversial national driver's license standards, which they criticized as an unfunded mandate that passed with no formal debate in Congress, posing threats to U.S. citizens' privacy and states' authority.

Now that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has extended deadlines for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the rules have essentially been punted to the next administration. That "baton passing" stage is a key opportunity to continue rebelling against the rules, the two politicians told a packed auditorium at an event sponsored by the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank that opposes Real ID.

"With a broad-based group, we can make some changes, but you need to be active, you need to be vocal, you need to be talking to your folks," Tester said.

Tester is one of the sponsors of Identification Security Enhancement Act, which would yank Real ID and replace it with a "negotiated" rulemaking process that was proposed before Real ID was glued onto an emergency Iraq war spending bill that passed unanimously in 2005. At a hearing last week, some senators indicated they'd be pushing for that proposal's enactment into law, although a timeline is unclear.

Sanford, for his part, is worried that many people are "sleeping through" the debate and urged opponents to help awaken them to the problems that he and other state officials see with Real ID. He charged that the plan is "the mother of all unfunded mandates" (with an estimated $116 million price tag for his small state), will force his state's residents to endure long waits at the Department of Motor Vehicles, meddles in states' governing powers, and requires interlinked databases that could offer "one-stop shopping for every computer hacker around the world."

Homeland Security, for its part, argues that more secure driver's licenses and identification documents are necessary to prevent terrorists, identity thieves, and illegal immigrants from committing wrongdoing, and it views Real ID as a pathway to that end.

The department has always characterized Real ID as voluntary, but when the rules kick in, state residents won't be able to board airplanes or enter federal buildings unless they present without a compliant identification card, driver's license, or U.S. passport. The first wave of requirements were originally supposed to kick in May 11, but any potential airport chaos has been postponed until at least the end of next year: The agency has since opted all 50 states and the District of Columbia deadline extensions for beginning to come into compliance with Real ID--whether they requested them or not.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford South Carolina Governor's Office

South Carolina is one of eight states that has passed legislation prohibiting implementation of Real ID--and it also falls into the category of states that vowed to stick by that position, Sanford said. (Ten other states have passed resolutions opposing Real ID, and two more--Arizona and Alaska--may be joining the rebellion soon.)

In late March, Sanford sent a letter (PDF) to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, in which he said he could not authorize the state to comply with Real ID and outlining a list of concerns with the policy. The governor recounted receiving a "bizarre" response: an effectively unsolicited deadline extension.

Sanford suggested he'll continue to uphold his state's law rejecting Real ID and indicated Homeland Security's behavior is nothing more than politics as usual. "There's a real tendency in the political process to kick the can," he said. "Everyone wants to have a reasonably good day. The idea of having a meltdown on a policy or proposal that you're responsible for is not exactly an idea of a good day."