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Nevada's Real ID Showdown

Rebecca Gasca,
ACLU of Nevada
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June 3, 2010

Ah, yes, Real ID—the federally mandated (and underfunded) de facto national identification program that raises serious concerns for civil libertarians everywhere. While some state governments have said “no thanks” to Real ID for numerous reasons, including its cost and its threats to privacy, Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons decided to ignore all of this and implement the program late last year.

There was just one problem: the citizens of Nevada weren’t having any of it.

Real ID has always been unpopular in the Silver State—chalk it up to that that western spirit of individualism. Nevada’s legislature even passed a resolution in 2007 urging Congress to repeal the act, and during the 2009 Nevada legislative session, the Real ID implementation bill died before reaching the assembly.

Despite all of this, and despite the ACLU of Nevada’s urging against its implementation, Real ID was revived through “emergency” regulation by Gov. Gibbons in December 2009. The regulation’s language even took away the right of Nevadans to choose whether they wanted a Real ID-compliant card or not, as is currently allowed under Real ID rules. Big mistake. Nevadans, who don’t appreciate being told what to do, were soon up in arms.

During public hearings on the proposed changes, individuals speaking out against Real ID were diverse, including: owners of driving schools; academic advisers and their international students; private business consultants; retired military personnel; the chairperson for the Clark County Republican party (the party had adopted an anti-Real ID resolution in 2008), and even concerned grandmothers. Not one Nevadan ever testified in favor of the program. Elected officials were also bombarded with phone calls — a grassroots organizing campaign that happened thanks to the ACLU of Nevada and the support of our nontraditional allies — the Nevada Families Eagle Forum and Gun Owners of Nevada.

The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles began issuing Real ID-compliant licenses and identification cards in January 2010, but their ascendancy was short-lived. Emergency regulations have a 120 day expiration date, and the DMV scrambled to propose permanent regulatory changes that would seal the Real ID deal. Nothing they could come up with, though, addressed any of the issues that the ACLU and other advocates brought forward.

Real ID died quietly when the Nevada Legislative Commission did not agendize it for further consideration at their April 30, 2010 meeting; the DMV has since stopped issuing Real ID-compliant IDs in Nevada. Score one for the civil libertarians.

But to paraphrase another friend of Nevada, Mark Twain, reports of this death may, unfortunately, be an exaggeration. The Las Vegas Review Journal reported the DMV has promised to “seek legislative approval” to bring Nevada back into compliance with the federal Real ID mandate by May 1, 2011. The showdown may have yet another round.

Fortunately, the ACLU and its allies will continue to stand up to any threats to our privacy rights, whether this issue re-emerges at the 2011 legislative session, on the national scene as PASS ID, or in any other form. We can be sure that the citizens of Nevada will be right behind us, too. That’s just how we do it out west.

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