Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called on state legislators Thursday to embrace new federal driver's license requirements to strengthen security, but state lawmakers later demanded that Congress either fund the program or drop it.
In a speech at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures, Chertoff sought to allay privacy concerns about the federal Real ID Act, saying there are no plans to create a federal database of drivers' personal information.
"We don't want to have that kind of big-brother, federal-government-owns-it approach," he said.
The goal of the Real ID Act - which was motivated by the Sept. 11 terrorists who used legitimate driver's licenses - is to unify the patchwork of state licensing rules and make it harder to obtain a card fraudulently. The measure is scheduled to go into effect in 2008.
"We've got literally hundreds of kinds of identification that we now allow people to use to cross borders, or get into federal buildings, or get on airplanes," Chertoff said.
But Chertoff did not address one of the biggest concerns raised in state legislatures about the Real ID requirements - the cost. One estimate predicted that the program would cost Pennsylvania alone up to $85 million.
NCSL members later voted to approve a resolution to demand Congress either find a way to pay for the Real ID Act - or to repeal it by the end of 2007.
"Basically we need to put our foot down and tell Congress that they need to fully fund it before they force the states to comply with the Real ID act," Georgia state Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, a Republican who introduced the resolution, said earlier this week. "If they can't do it, they need to repeal the law."
On the Net:
National Conference of State Legislatures: http://www.ncsl.org
U.S. Department of Homeland Security: http://www.dhs.gov