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No Real ID in Alaska

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May 29, 2008

The battle over Real ID — the Bush Administration’s backdoor national ID card — has been getting quieter in the last few weeks, but is by no means cooling down.

First, the statutory deadline for all states to comply with the Real ID Act — May 11, 2008 — came and went without a single state participating in the program. The Department of Homeland Security tried its best to bully states into agreeing to comply, but the best they got was half-hearted responses like that of California, which said it could not commit one way or the other.

A few states, like Montana and South Carolina, outright refused. Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina sent Michael Chertoff a five-page letter explaining in detail why his state would not participate, and called Real ID “the worst piece of legislation I have seen during the 15 years I have been engaged in the political process.” It’s no wonder DHS chose to extend the implementation deadline to 2017, when all of its top officials will be comfortably out of office, and on the lecture circuit.

That seemed to be that. Real ID was supposed to sleep-walk into the next president’s administration, who would have to decide whether to put the multi-billion dollar unfunded mandate on life support, or drive the final steak through its vampiric heart.

Yesterday, however, the state of Alaska upset the balance…again, quietly. The Legislature passed a bill in early May that would prevent the state from spending any money to implement Real ID. Since Congress has appropriated only 1 percent of the total $9.9 billion cost, states have to shoulder almost the entire burden, so no state money effectively means no Real ID in Alaska. The bill sat on Governor Sarah Palin’s desk for the last few weeks, and yesterday she returned it to the legislature unsigned.

That might seem like a defeat for the bill, but take a look at this key section of the Alaska Constitution:

A bill becomes law if, while the legislature is in session, the governor neither signs nor vetoes it within fifteen days, Sundays excepted, after its delivery to him. If the legislature is not in session and the governor neither signs nor vetoes a bill within twenty days, Sundays excepted, after its delivery to him, the bill becomes law.

You needn’t have aced Civics to see what this means: By waiting the required twenty days after receiving the bill (excluding Sundays), the Governor allowed the bill to become law, making Alaska the ninth state to pass a statute against implementing Real ID.

We can expect to see other states quietly move to reject Real ID. Similar bills are awaiting final approval by the legislatures in Arizona and Louisiana, and others are pending in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. As the anti-Real ID rebellion continues to grow in the states, Congress would be wise to prick up its ears to the sounds of silence.