CARSON CITY — State Senate Finance Committee members expressed concern Monday about a bill that would require the state Department of Motor Vehicles starting in 2010 to issue driver’s licenses that comply with the federal Real ID Act.
Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, said the bill would create an unfunded mandate that forces DMV to spend as much as $1.5 million of its own money to meet requirements of the federal law.
Finance Chairwoman Bernice Mathews, D-Reno, said that before she takes a vote on Senate Bill 52, she wants to check if the state can receive an exemption from complying with the law.
During a hearing, both liberal and conservative lobbyists condemned the proposal on the grounds it would violate citizens’ right to privacy.
Several complained Real ID licenses are the first step toward the insertion of a radio frequency chip into licenses to allow government authorities to keep track of citizens’ whereabouts. The DMV denied that allegation.
The Real ID Act was passed by Congress in 2005 to prevent terrorists from acquiring legitimate identification cards. States now vary widely in the information they require people to provide before issuing them licenses. The act would standardize the information DMVs would collect.
“This is a silly law,” testified David Schumann, a lobbyist for the activist group Nevada Committee for Full Statehood. “The government thinks they can create documents that al-Qaida cannot duplicate. Osama bin Laden was a civil engineering graduate of London University. Al-Qaida is not ignorant people.”
Under the Real ID provisions, Nevadans and other citizens would have to show a birth certificate, a Social Security card and give proof of their residency through a utility or other bills before they could secure a state driver’s license.
Without the Real ID-compliant license, people could be blocked from getting on an interstate airline or entering federal buildings.
DMV officials said the price of a drivers’ license, $22 for four years, is a lot cheaper than acquiring a passport, which costs $114 and also can be used at airports.
Janine Hansen, a lobbyist for the conservative group Nevada Eagle Forum, said the federal government cannot prevent people from boarding planes. She said one of her brothers disrobed in an airport to prove he was not in possession of weapons and was permitted to fly.
“As long as you are patted down, you can fly,” Hansen said.
Mathews, who owns a business at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, said Hansen was correct.
Schumann said that 11 states, including Arizona, have received extensions from enforcing the act.
Former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano now is director of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Real ID Act. As governor, she signed a bill declaring her state’s opposition to enforcing the Real ID Act. But as homeland security chief, she intends to “roll out something new” concerning the act, according to American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist Rebecca Gasca, who urged the committee to reject the bill.
“We think it is prudent not to bring the state into compliance,” she said “Nevada could be the only state to comply.”
During the 2007 session, the proposal was widely criticized in Nevada because of concern it would cost $30 million to implement. But under new Department of Homeland Security requirements, the price tag rose to $5.1 million. Tom Jacobs, a DMV spokesman, said Nevada probably will receive all but about $400,000 of its costs from the federal government.
The state will not raise the price of driver’s licenses if it does not receive all the money, he said.
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