FRANK STASIO, host:
President Bush signed the Real ID Act into law last week, setting a federal standard for state-issued driver's licenses, and depending on where you live, applicants may now have to provide more forms of identification which states will then check against federal databases. Advocates for the act hope that it will help control illegal immigration and increase security. What do you think about the Real ID Act and about the balance between security and bureaucracy? And if you work at a DMV, we'd especially like to hear from you at (800) 989-TALK, (800) 989-8255.
We're joined now by Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. He led state opposition to the law. He joins us from Newport Beach, California, where he is promoting his new book, "Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork."
Governor, welcome to the program.
Governor MIKE HUCKABEE (Republican, Arkansas): Well, thank you very much, Frank. Pleasure to be with you for a few minutes.
STASIO: What are your concerns about the Real ID Act?
Gov. HUCKABEE: Well, once again Congress has stuck it to the states. I mean, that's it in a nutshell. They don't have the courage to put forth a national ID system which they believe that we need, so what they're gonna do is to hand not only the responsibility but also the burden of paying for it over to states already strapped by unfunded mandates like increases in Medicaid obligations and a host of things. It's completely the wrong approach. If we need a national ID system, and some have acknowledged that perhaps we're at a point in our national security that we do, something that clearly identifies not only citizenship but criminal background, that's fine. It becomes the essence of a passport. But let's be honest about it. Let's not ask states to make their driver's license a national passport. And for heaven sakes, let's not put people who are right now behind the counter of a DMV, who are not trained to be INS agents or FBI or CIA, suddenly make these folks who don't earn enough money as it is, take on the burden of screening out terrorists. It's a completely wrong way to approach this.
STASIO: Well, we're also joined by Cheye Calvo, transportation director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, joining us from his office in Washington.
Cheye, thanks for being with us.
Mr. CHEYE CALVO (National Conference of State Legislatures): Pleasure to be with you.
STASIO: How do you feel about that, and about what Governor Huckabee says is really the consequence of this?
Mr. CALVO: I think state legislators agree completely with what Governor Huckabee articulated, but now we're sort of faced with the reality that this bill has become law, and so now states have to scramble over the next three years to meet the mandates that have been imposed and come up with the money to pay for those, or there are gonna be some serious consequences for state citizens.
STASIO: How do you plan to come up with the money, Governor?
Gov. HUCKABEE: Well, that's just it. We don't have plans to have to come up with the money because we just finished our two-year budget cycle. We weren't prepared to enact this. We've made enough changes in our driver's license system that it won't be as much of a burden on us as it will other states because we have a lot of those ID-readable driver's license. But here's the real catch for many states. It's gonna be coming at a time when the question is: If someone uses a driver's license to do some dastardly deed, is the responsibility gonna be pointed back toward a state government? And in the meantime, many states will be spending up to between 100 and $500 million to enact this. We feel like that a driver's license is exactly what it says, it's a driver's license. It's not a license to cross borders. It's a license to operate a motor vehicle within the confines of that particular state.
STASIO: Well, what about that, Cheye Calvo? This is a national security issue. Should we be leaving this up to 50 states to figure out how to vet our citizens?
Mr. CALVO: Well, it's a good question and it's important to understand that the intelligence bill that passed in December actually set up a state-friendly system to develop federal standards where you had state and federal officials at the table working through not just to make this workable, but also to allow states to utilize their resources more effectively and really prioritize those critical needs. By dismantling a state-friendly approach and imposing these really rigid rules unilaterally, it sort of puts states in a difficult situation, and for states like Arkansas, with a bi-annual budget, they're gonna be given very little notice to implement these rules, which obviously they're gonna probably take months and months, if not a year to actually come out with the details so states can begin the process.
STASIO: We are talking today about the Real ID law, which has the states now responsible for making sure that those who have driver's licenses are, in fact, United States citizens. We're talking to Cheye Calvo, transportation director for the Conference of State Legislatures, from his office in Washington, DC, and Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is also with us to talk about the implications of the new law.
What--Governor Huckabee, is it just a matter of money? If you had enough money, do you think you could do this, or do you think the feds ought to be doing this anyway?
Gov. HUCKABEE: Well, I think it's--there are three things involved. One is the money. The second thing is the responsibility. This is not a state responsibility to protect the national borders. It is a federal responsibility. They ought to own up to their responsibility and get it done. And the third thing is the consequences for some breakdown in the system. If someone uses a Missouri driver's license to fly an airplane into the World Trade Center, will the rest of the country be saying, `Missouri should have prevented this?' If someone who made 7.50 an hour working behind the desk at a DMV in rural Missouri or rural Arkansas or rural anywhere be the person that we're going to hold accountable and responsible for something horrible happening? I think that's what we have to look at.
STASIO: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
I'm Frank Stasio in Washington, sitting in for Neal Conan, taking your calls at 989-TALK. Harvey's on the line from Oakland.
HARVEY (Caller): Yes. Hello. You know, people always point out that Mohamed Atta and the other hijackers all had licenses, but they had valid licenses in their own names, so that doesn't really prove anything. But my question is, what if a state refused to comply? Now, you know, I realize that means that that state's license would not be valid for boarding aircraft, so, you know, a state like Arkansas, you know, couldn't refuse to comply, but what if a big state like New York or California or Illinois refused to comply? Would they shut down O'Hare Airport in Chicago?
STASIO: Thank you, Harvey.
HARVEY: It's the busiest airport in the country.
STASIO: Thanks, Harvey. Yeah.
Gov. HUCKABEE: Well, I think it's a good point, Harvey, and it's one of the things, if enough states were to just simply say, you know, `We just can't comply in the time frame,' it might create a national havoc. But it means you couldn't go to open an account at a federal bank. You couldn't enter a federal building, including a courthouse. The real issue that I think many of us face is that there are some onerous penalties for not complying, but the states didn't have a say in how this was developed. We had a few champions in Congress, particularly Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who understood the implications, who fought very valiantly, but in the end lost the battle, and I think that's of concern.
Frank, I'm gonna have to step away.
Gov. HUCKABEE: Cheye is more than capable of handling it, so I'm gonna leave it in good hands with him, and I appreciate Cheye being on the program to share the perspective. I think you won't find a difference between legislators and governors on this one.
STASIO: Thank you very much, Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.
Cheye, what is it that DMVs are gonna have to be doing now that they weren't doing before? How much do you have to show?
Mr. CALVO: There's actually a number of new, very specific requirements that concern the states. First and foremost, people are gonna have to present more IDs, more than they had in the past. But the biggest concern that is what happens once you show up at the DMV, that DMVs are actually gonna have to make copies of those, you know, breeder documents as they're called--birth certificates, utility bills, the basic documents that use--and they're gonna have to retain those copies for 10 years, as well as they're gonna have to actually verify each one of those documents with the issuing agency before you can get your license. That means they're literally gonna have to call, you know, vital records offices in other states, they're gonna have to call utility companies, mortgage companies, bank companies, anything you use to verify your address, and when you consider that states actually issue 70 million documents a year, that's an onerous burden. So if it even just takes a couple more minutes, you know, three, four, five more minutes per issuance, if you just factor in 50 cents a minute, you're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars per year for staff time, or the lines could just get longer and the wait at the DMV could be that much more onerous.
STASIO: Well, how long do you predict the wait is gonna be now? I mean, by percentage basis, how much longer will we wait?
Mr. CALVO: And that's a good question. States are right now really sorting through this. I've heard from a whole host of states who are saying, `Well, to make electronic copies of these four documents could take two or three minutes.' To verify these things really, you're not gonna be able to get your license in one day anymore. What is called over-the-counter issuance probably won't be possible, so you're gonna have to go in, wait for the lines, get your documents in and then at some point in the future actually get your license. So you won't actually walk out the building that day with your license. But it looks like state DMVs are gonna have to hire a whole host of new people just to make copies of documents as well as verify, because it's not too easy to get your own utility company on the phone, and what's gonna be the cost on the private sector or these other third parties with whom the states have to verify this information? Is there gonna be a utility hot line where DMVs can call up and actually answer those questions? That's not really answered by the bill.
STASIO: All right, Cheye, well, I want to thank you very much.
Mr. CALVO: It's a pleasure to be with you.
STASIO: Cheye Calvo is transportation director of the National Conference of State Legislatures. He joined us from his office in Washington, DC.
That's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Frank Stasio.