STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON >> Mimicking the way the House handled the issued last month, the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday tacked onto its budget bill an amendment intended to bring Massachusetts into compliance with the federal Real ID Act.
The Real ID Act, a federal post-2001 anti-terrorism initiative, requires states to begin issuing secure and compliant forms of identification that for many residents will replace their current driver's licenses.
Gov. Charlie Baker in March had his top transportation officials brief legislative leaders on the legislation he filed last October to bring Massachusetts into compliance, warning that without action this year residents might have to start carrying their passports to access federal buildings or travel through domestic airports by January.
On Thursday, the Senate considered an amendment filed by Minority Leader Bruce Tarr to adopt the provisions of the federal Real ID law as part of the state's spending plan. Tarr said his amendment largely mirrored the governor's bill.
"It's imperative, imperative, that we take action to bring our state into compliance with the federal Real ID Act so that our licenses do have integrity, that our licenses do represent truthful information and that those licenses can contribute to the security of our commonwealth and nation, rather than be used potentially to undermine and threaten the security of our commonwealth and our nation," Tarr said.
Lynn Sen. Thomas McGee offered a further amendment, one that would require the registrar to issue two different types of licenses -- one that complies with Real ID and one that does not -- rather than just giving the registrar the option of issuing two types of ID as the Tarr amendment would have.
"The Real ID Act allows states that adopt it to have a two-tiered system," he said. "This further amendment would offer the option for current license and ID holders as well as new applicants ... to chose a Real ID so long as they meet the federal documentation requirements or the current non-compliant licenses and ID cards for those that do not need or want the Real ID for either personal or privacy reasons."
McGee said 16 of the 24 states that have enacted legislation to comply with the federal law have adopted a two-tiered system.
The new licenses, which would be marked with a yellow star, would require an applicant to show proof of citizenship or lawful status in the country.
Some immigrant advocacy groups have expressed concern that the governor's bill could deny some legal residents driver's licenses due to its adherence the federal definition of "lawful status."
Tarr argued that the two-tiered system would undermine the point of the federal law.
"The purpose of this federal Real ID Act is to make sure that United States citizens and those that are in the country lawfully, which we all want to accommodate, have a license that means something," he said. "Not to create a second tier where we say, 'well, maybe you don't meet all those criteria but we're going to give you one of the most important pieces of identification available in our society and not guarantee that you meet those other criteria."
Tarr's amendment included a separate definition of "lawful presence" that would give the registrar some discretion, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, in issuing Massachusetts-only driver's licenses to those who can prove their legal presence, but don't meet the federal criteria for a Real ID.
The McGee further amendment was ultimately adopted on a 25-13 roll call vote. Democratic Sens. Jennifer Flanagan, Anne Gobi, John Keenan, Joan Lovely, Michael Moore, Michael Rush and James Timilty joined the Senate's six Republicans in opposing it.
Last October, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued the state a one-year extension to become compliant with the Real ID Act. Baker, however, has said that in order to get another extension this October the state needed to show progress toward compliance, which would require legislative action.
The Transportation Committee, which McGee chairs, took no action on the governor's bill (H 3814) by the May 16 reporting deadline, according to the committee.