Feds waging a two-front war to set national DL standards

| Thursday, February 24, 2005

Officials are working on two fronts to create federal standards for driver’s licenses.

A bill that would create those standards – HR 418 – is now moving through the U.S. Senate after passing the House Feb. 10 by a vote of 261-161.

But at the same time, officials at the Department of Transportation have posted a notice on the Federal Register saying they intend to negotiate with the states to create standards much like those the bill would create.

However, in this case – unlike most DOT rulemaking procedures – the agency will not create a proposed rule and ask for comment, according to information in the Register. Instead, it is asking various state and federal agencies to comment on who should be on a committee to negotiate the rules, and what those people should discuss.

The rule will be based on a section of the 9/11 Commission Implementation Act of 2004. Section 7212 of that law calls for national driver’s license standards, including determining what documents would be required to prove a person’s identity; verifying those documents’ authenticity; and what information should be required on every driver’s license regardless of the issuing state. That information could include name, age, address, gender, a digital photo and the person’s signature.

In addition, the agency wants the proposed rules to include a requirement that states confiscate a driver’s license if the card’s security features – or any other part of the card – were tampered with.

However, the law also places a limitation on federal requirements. The feds cannot interfere with states’ power to determine who is or is not eligible to receive a driver’s license. And they cannot mandate a particular design.

The measure now moving through Congress – HR 418 – is called the Real ID Act. Introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-WI, it would prevent states from issuing licenses unless the license contained specific information – name, date of birth, gender, a digital photo and other required elements.

But it contains another feature that the DOT’s call for negotiated standards does not. The bill would disallow anyone from receiving a license if they could not prove they were in the country legally. According to the DOT notice, the 9/11 Commission Act says that if DOT sets the standards, it cannot tell states who can and cannot receive a license.

The bill also contains other measures, including a section designed “to prevent terrorists from abusing the asylum laws of the United States,” and another that would make it easier for the federal government to complete border fences and other barriers, such as one near San Diego.

HR 418 is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Los Angeles Times reported that it has the support of both the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress.

In the Federal Register notice, DOT officials said if HR 418 passes, it would end the agency’s rulemaking process.

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