Republican radio address
For the weekend of February 7-8, 2009

Greetings, this is Josh Tardy, leader of the Republicans in the Maine House.

We’ve reached the point in the legislative cycle when bills both good and bad are coming into focus. I’d like to discuss one particular bill today that falls into the bad category. This bill, sponsored by State Senator Dennis Damon, could force a reenactment of a battle waged in the last Legislature, taking up time that should be spent working on a new state budget. But Senator Damon apparently thinks it wise to spend considerable time, money and effort on something else. He wants to return to the absurd policy of handing out driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.

You may recall the ferocious fighting last spring over a reform to Maine policy on driver’s licenses. You may also recall that Maine had become a renegade state because of our lax and carefree attitude toward licenses. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9-11, we learned that the 19 hijackers had more than 60 valid licenses between them. Nine of them were actually registered to vote, thanks to the Motor Voter Act. In light of those shocking revelations, the handful of states with lenient licensing policies tightened the screws to make sure that illegal aliens couldn’t get them.

But not Maine. Even though some of those hijackers began their trail of terror that day at the Portland Jetport, Maine held fast to a licensing policy that isn’t just a threat to national security. It also worsens the massive problem of identity theft and makes it easier for illegals to blend into American society. The governor went so far as to issue an executive order turning Maine into a sanctuary state for illegal aliens. We continued to cheerfully hand out licenses to anybody who showed up, legal or not.

This bizarre policy – staunchly defended by the Legislature’s majority party – also contaminated the licenses of other states. An illegal with a Maine license could return to New Jersey or any other state and exchange it for a valid license from that state. A driver’s license has basically become a national ID card. With a license, you can board a flight, buy a firearm, and rent anything from a video to an apartment. At one point, we heard the story of a Maine licensing official who met an illegal alien at a Boston bar. He told the guy that he could get a license in Maine with no problem. He did, and then proceeded to use the license to buy a gun and hold up a bank in Bangor.

By last year, Maine’s licensing circus had become a full-blown fiasco.

We learned that vanloads of illegals were driving up to Maine from New York, New Jersey and other places just to get a license. The trip organizers recruited their customers through ads in foreign language newspapers. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people made the trip. We like tourism here in Maine, but these aren’t the kind of tourists we usually associate with Vacationland.

Finally, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maine got into the act, arresting and prosecuting criminals taking advantage of our state. The federal Department of Homeland Security got into the act, too. They informed the governor that unless Maine tightened up its licensing policies to block illegal aliens, Maine licenses would no longer be recognized by federal authorities. That meant you couldn’t use a Maine license to board a plan or enter a federal building.

That threat was enough to get the governor to take action. Last April, he submitted legislation designed to restrict Maine licenses to legal residents of the state and legal residents of the United States. Opponents argued that such a law would place Maine under the federal Real ID Act, but that wasn’t true. The governor’s bill did not require Maine to submit any information to a DHS database. In fact, no such database even existed.

The bill only covered Maine driver’s licenses and Maine State ID cards. It did not commit the state to use biometric techniques such as retinal and fingerprint scanning to identify license applicants. Perhaps the real objection was articulated by the director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. She argued that access to a Maine license was a “human right,” and that we should issue them to any person from anywhere on earth.

The House voted on the governor’s bill last April 16th, and it was close. The bill was approved 73-72, with the support of all Republicans and some Democrats. The Senate also approved the measure, 19-15 – with Senator Damon voting on the losing side.

Under current law, Maine residents applying for a license must present a passport, a birth certificate, a green card or a visa to prove legal status in the country. They also must provide proof of Maine residency, such as a utility bill, a rental contract, a tax return or a pay stub. Senator Damon has said that these requirements represent an ”erosion of our freedom and liberties,” but I submit that the need for security outweighs those concerns. And how much of a hardship is it to gather together some paperwork every six years when you renew your license? Does that make you feel less free?

Senator Damon’s bill would continue the requirement that you must provide proof of Maine residency. But he would eliminate the need to prove that you are legally in the United States. In this age of massive illegal immigration, massive document fraud and massive ID theft, it would be a mistake to retreat to the failed policies of the past.

This is Josh Tardy. Thank you for listening.