Down to the wire at the State House

By Dana Dow | Jun 17, 2017

Summer is just around the corner, yet there is still much to be decided in Augusta. Will we repeal the new ranked-choice voting law that Maine’s highest court found to be unconstitutional, or will we ask the voters to amend the Maine Constitution to fit this new law? Will we repeal the job-killing 3 percent surtax burdening more than 11,000 small businesses in Maine, or will we let it stand? Will we reinstate the tip credit, and if so, will it be in time for the summer tourism season? And perhaps most importantly, will both sides come to the table to negotiate a budget that won’t bankrupt Maine in time for the Jan. 30 deadline?

As you can see, much is yet to be decided before we adjourn later this month. But there are a few accomplishments we’ve already had that are important for Maine. Earlier this session, we came together to solve a compliance issue that has been hanging over our heads for more than a decade.

Back in 2005, the federal government passed the Real ID Act in response to the 9/11 attacks in an effort to enhance national security. This new law was initially met with significant resistance by a number of states. It was seen as an overreach of federal authority and many worried that the database created to store our identifying information could be susceptible to hacking, potentially putting the identity of many Americans at risk.

In response Maine passed a law that would make any move towards compliance illegal. At the time, people thought that if enough states stood together in defiance, the federal government would continue to grant waivers and extensions for noncompliance. Fast-forward 12 years, and Maine was one of only five states out of compliance with this law.

And as of January, our bluff was called when the federal government stopped accepting Maine driver’s licenses as an acceptable form of identification to access some federal installations. It also announced that as of January 2018, Maine driver’s licenses would no longer be accepted for the purpose of boarding commercial flights, severely restricting Maine citizens' ability to travel freely around the country.

These new restrictions put Mainers at a serious disadvantage, as our veterans were unable to access health care from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and delivery truck drivers were turned away from federal facilities. Even as American citizens, Mainers were required to present a passport to gain access to these facilities.

Legislators heard from a large number of people who were concerned about the implications of these penalties, as it was clear that things would only get worse for Maine driver’s license holders if we were to continue down the path we were on.

So this session, we passed, LD 306, “An Act To Require State Compliance with Federal REAL ID Guidelines,” on a strong bipartisan vote. This compromise includes enough safeguards to appease the concerns of folks who had previously opposed compliance, and because we have finally taken measures to comply, the federal government reversed the penalties and again recognizes Maine driver’s licenses as a valid form of identification.

I’m glad that we were able to come together in a bipartisan manner to solve the decade-old problem of REAL ID compliance in a way that protects Mainers so we are no longer an outlier in the country.

To contact me about a legislative issue, call 287-1505, or email me at Dana.Dow@legislature.maine.gov.

State Sen. Dana Dow represents Maine Senate District 13, which includes communities in Lincoln, Knox and Kennebec counties. He serves on the Legislature’s Taxation and Insurance and Financial Services Committees.

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