President Bush’s backing of a bill to toughen standards for more than 190 million state-issued driver’s licenses is igniting a states’-rights tussle. Privacy advocates are already protesting that the measure is a step toward turning driver’s licenses into national ID cards.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., says his Real ID Act of 2005 is aimed at keeping would-be terrorists from obtaining valid driver’s licenses.
The National Conference of State Legislatures points out that many states are already responding to recommendations from the 9/11 Commission and reforming how they issue driver’s licenses and birth-certificate documents.
Sensenbrenner’s proposal would require state motor-vehicle offices to impose federal security standards for state office buildings where driver’s licenses and related records are produced or stored. The measure also would require setting up security clearances for state personnel so they could use federal data banks to determine an applicant’s legal home and immigration status.
Maryland state Delegate John Hurson, a Democrat and president of the conference, says Washington should forget about ordering state motor-vehicle offices to become immigration-enforcement bureaus, and instead zero in on new and enforceable immigration policies.
Immigrant advocates argue that denying illegal aliens licenses will result in increased numbers of unlicensed and uninsured drivers on highways. That didn’t happen after 1986, when Congress took the first steps toward federalizing driver’s licenses by setting national standards for states issuing commercial licenses to 2.7 million truck and bus drivers.
It’s not often noted, but Uncle Sam evidently is among the employers ignoring federal laws requiring employers to keep jobs open for reservists called up for active military duty.
Scott Bloch, head of the little-known Office of Special Counsel, says that it’s his top priority to ensure that federal agencies give jobs back to reservists returning from duties that have stretched up to two years in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s a mission Bloch takes personally: He’s is the proud father of a Marine serving in Iraq.
Additionally, Bloch charges that government agencies aren’t complying with laws that give hiring preferences for disabled veterans. Bloch filed suit last year against a U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee for allegedly scheming to give an agency job to a friend over a disabled veteran who was a finalist for the post.
Look for Democrats to soften the anti-gun image that cost them several House seats in recent elections. Howard Dean _ pro-gun-rights advocate and former presidential candidate _ is the incoming chairman of the Democratic National Committee. The National Rifle Association endorsed him repeatedly during his time as Vermont governor.
Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada is vowing to defend the rights of hunters and fishermen with legislation overturning a recent court decision imperiling the rights of states to set different hunting limits for in-state and out-of-state hunters.
Congress is eyeing a $10 tax on new computer and TV sales to offset the costs of dealing with 2 million tons of hardware being dumped into American landfills each year. The Environmental Protection Agency expects 63 million obsolete computers and broken TV sets will be thrown away this year. California this year became the first state to collect taxes _ $6 to $10 _ on sales of electronic equipment to pay for disposing of the stuff new technology is replacing.
Pentagon physicians forecast an upsurge in “Baghdad boil” cases in the United States as troops rotate home from Afghanistan and Iraq this year. The disease (known officially as leishmaniasis) is caused when desert sand flies burrow into GIs’ skin while they sleep in the open desert. Military doctors have diagnosed 750 cases among troops involved in Operations Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom, but expect more will bubble up when the troops come home.
Follow-on troops have screened barracks and air-conditioned dorms to protect them from menacing desert flies and heat, so the Pentagon contends the problem is under control.
(Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)SHNS.com)