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REAL ID, real resistance

States have legitimate concerns about lack of funding for more secure driver's licenses.

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Phew. Mainers will not be turned back at US airports because their driver's licenses don't meet federal identification standards intended to stop terrorists. As of this week, it is the last state to reach a deal over the much-maligned REAL ID program. But that hardly resolves this national issue.

The REAL ID Act of 2005 is a classic case of lawmakers in Washington telling states what to do, and then making them pay for it (an "unfunded mandate"). Many states are resisting compliance – 21 passed some kind of legislation opposed to REAL ID, including several outright refusals to comply.

But the Department of Homeland Security has granted an extension to states from March 31 of this year until Dec. 31, 2009. It says states are at least to complying. The reprieve punts the issue to the next administration, leaving the disagreement unresolved.

In passing the act, Congress tried to do the right thing by following a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission, which urged federal standards for driver's licenses as a way to better secure identification. The ID gives people access to planes and federal buildings, such as courthouses.

Pressure is mounting for more secure IDs to attest that people are who they say they are. The 9/11 Commission cared about stopping terrorists. But Americans also face increasing threats of identity theft, which is why retailers ask for a photo ID along with a credit card. And employers are expected to check the legal status of job applicants to prevent hiring illegal aliens.

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