Bye-bye States’ Rights

States’ rights have taken a beating since 9/11 from the conservative wing of the Republican Party, once one of their greatest defenders. The latest state prerogative to take a hit is the right to set standards for getting a driver’s license.

Pushed by House GOP conservatives, Congress is about to enact federally mandated standards for issuing driver’s licenses, including a requirement that persons seeking a new license or renewing an old one produce a birth certificate, photo ID, proof of a valid Social Security number and a document with full name and address.

Moreover, the state motor vehicle departments will be charged with verifying the authenticity of the documents, a requirement that state officials say is too costly _ $500 million by one estimate _ and complicated. Bipartisan Senate critics call the bill’s provisions “unworkably rigid.”

If you think the lines are too long now at the local DMV, just wait.

The backers say that these new requirements do not get state motor vehicle clerks into the business of checking citizenship and immigration status, but in a backdoor way it kind of does.

Legal visitors to the country could get a license, but it would expire when their visas do. States could still provide licenses to illegal aliens _ 11 states currently do _ but the licenses have to be of a different design and specify that they are not valid ID for boarding aircraft.

The measure will almost certainly become law because it is attached to a must-pass emergency bill funding military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A variety of civil liberties, gun and libertarian groups say that these driver’s licenses, fed into a central database, are national ID cards, which, in effect, they are. The measure is not called Real ID for nothing.

Last year’s intelligence reform bill called on federal and state agencies and interested private groups to agree on new security standards for driver’s licenses. But Congress decided to skip the consultations and go ahead and do it for them.

This bill has the potential to make the states surrogate issuers of federal driver’s licenses, and that really is big government.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)