Real ID Law Faces Test in New Hampshire

The Real ID program, created in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, is facing its first challenge in New Hampshire. The federal law would standardize identification requirements for driver's licenses. But opponents say it is the first step to a national identification system. New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers reports.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

New Hampshire is the only state with a constitutional right of revolt. And when it comes to the Real I.D. Act--the September 11th inspired plan to create a national standard for drivers licenses--the spirit of revolution is in full force.

New Hampshire Public Radio's Josh Rogers has more.

JOSH ROGERS, reporting:

The local debate over Real I.D. hasn't lacked for theatrics. Politicians strutted the state house in tricorn hats, and protestors dressed like Nazis and demanded to see people's papers. While those who endorsed Real I.D. see it as a commonsense way to tighten security in a post September 11th world, opponents say the program is an overarching prelude to a national identification system.

State Representative NEAL KURK (Republican, New Hampshire): Evildoers will continue to evade the law. Remember that the 9/11 terrorists were in this country legally and had legally obtained documents.

ROGERS: Republican State Representative Neal Kurk, has led the charge against Real I.D. in the New Hampshire legislature.

State Rep. KURK: The Real I.D. system will enhance government control and solid citizens will suffer. Perhaps that's why the Real I.D. Act is opposed by the National Governors Association, the conservative Cato Institute, and the liberal ACLU.

ROGERS: And the list doesn't stop there, as the bill to remove New Hampshire from Real I.D. gain momentum, it's every development has been tracked by a band of a supporters, ranging from Evangelical Christians who believe a national I.D. system is tantamount to the mark of The Beast, to members of the anti-government Free State Movement. Libertarian Don Gorman is with the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance.

Mr. DON GORMAN (Political Director, New Hampshire Liberty Alliance): What I make of it is the fact that a lot of citizens do not want this Real I.D. shoved down our throat. And if that embarrasses some of our colleagues in federal government, then so be it.

ROGERS: Under Real I.D., states must verify that people applying for driver's licenses are in the country legally and can document their birth dates, Social Security Numbers, and home addresses. Virginia Beecher, director of New Hampshire's Department of Motor Vehicles, says ignoring those requirements will cause problems for people who can't carry New Hampshire licenses.

Ms. VIRGINIA BEECHER (Director, Department of Motor Vehicles): No one is going to be able to get into any federal building. You're not going to be able to get on any federally regulated aircraft. We have to put a disclaimer on our license saying we are not Real I.D. compliant. And I, personally, believe that the citizens of New Hampshire will be gravely affected.

ROGERS: Whether any of that comes to pass remains to be seen. Barry Steinhardt, of the American Civil Liberties Union, says how Real I.D. gets implemented is an open question. The federal law doesn't take effect for two years.

Mr. BARRY STEINHARDT (Associate Director, American Civil Liberties Union): No money has been appropriated. No regulations exist. New Hampshire can be the first one to say the emperor has no clothes.

ROGERS: But State Senate President Ted Gatsas is trying to block the bill. He points out that New Hampshire is nearly in compliance already.

State Representative TED GATSAS (Republican, New Hampshire; State Senate President): All these things that we're hearing about (unintelligible) there's an invasion of privacy. To get a license in New Hampshire, the invasion is already there.

ROGERS: The New Hampshire State Senate slated to take up the bill to reject the Real I.D. Act today, New Hampshire Democratic Governor John Lynch says if it passes, he'll sign it into law.

For NPR News, I'm Josh Rogers in Concord, New Hampshire.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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