Conservatives in the Utah Legislature are getting buffeted early in the 2012 general session as they are forced by various realities to take steps they otherwise may avoid.
Last week GOP lawmakers learned that they won’t be able to reduce the state’s bonded indebtedness to 85 percent of the constitutional limit.
That’s because of a combination of more bonding than originally believed for roads in combination with a dropping housing market would require $210 million to get the indebtedness down to 85 percent. In fact, in 2013 the state’s indebtedness will be around 90 percent of the limit.
There isn’t $210 million available for such a buy-down.
Now, GOP leaders are told, it’s likely that Utah will be found by federal regulators to be out of compliance with the federal government’s REAL ID provisions.
You can read about REAL ID here.
“We may have some real fights over this,” said one GOP leader who spoke with UtahPolicy.
That’s because there is little sympathy among conservative legislators to give in in any way to federal bosses.
But, legislative leaders say, without changes federal agencies could refuse to accept Utah state driver’s license as verification of legal residency and identification.
In a worst-case scenario, that would mean that Utahns would have to have a U.S. passport and/or an original birth certificate in order to get past TSA security and on to a commercial airline flight.
“If citizens were unhappy about having to show an I.D. (a driver’s license) to vote, they would go crazy over this,” said one GOP leader who didn’t want to be named.
Sponsor of SB25, Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, says some conservative groups may be upset about what the state has to do with REAL ID.
But Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, who crafted Utah’s REAL ID opt-out several years ago, says people “shouldn’t become hysterical.”
He and Van Tassell can craft a compromise that allows Utah to walk up to the very line of REAL ID acceptance of a valid Utah driver’s license – so Utahns can get onto airplanes – without allowing more restrictions or problems of REAL ID total acceptance.
If Utah took the REAL ID federal provisions all the way, said Sandstrom, some day a Utah driver’s license would contain a chip like current U.S. passports have.
Through your Utah driver’s license “they could track where you were going – in and out of Evanston (Wyo.) in half an hour? Law enforcement could stop you to see if you were carrying illegal liquor or fireworks,” said Sandstrom.
That won’t be happening in Utah, promised Sandstrom, a conservative who is running for the new 4th Congressional District this year.
Currently, a Utah resident just has to show his or her picture state driver’s license to get past security at airports and to their flights.
One way around the REAL ID problem would be to have two different kinds of Utah driver’s licenses, but that would be a mess for the state Department of Public Safety, as well, this leader said.
The 2005 Congressional act is defined by Wikipedia as: “The law set forth certain requirements for state driver's licenses and ID cards to be accepted by the federal government for "official purposes", as defined by the Secretary of Homeland Security.
“The Secretary of Homeland Security has currently defined "official purposes" as presenting state driver's licenses and identification cards for boarding commercially operated airline flights and entering federal buildings and nuclear power plants.”
In a way, says Sandstrom, federal Homeland Security bosses are just calling Utah’s bluff.
“Half the states have opted out of REAL ID in one way or another – like Utah has,” says Sandstrom. “There’s no way half of the U.S. population is going to be kept from taking airplanes unless they use a passport. No way. Citizens just won’t stand for that.”
Utah’s REAL ID problem may be fixed with just a small change, hopes Van Tassell: Right now a Utah resident can have both a driver’s license and a non-driving resident I.D., both issued by the Department of Public Safety.
“We’d change it so you could have form of I.D. or the other, but not both,” said Van Tassell.
REAL ID is greatly disliked by a number of conservative and libertarian groups who believe it is a violation of the 10th Amendment, that powers not given specifically to the federal government are reserved to the states.
Others worry about civil liberty issues – like the federal or state government being able to track citizen movements.
Many Utahns were unhappy in 2010 when they had to show a valid picture I.D. at the polls in order to vote. Many older Utahns don’t have a driver’s license or other picture I.D.
Lawmakers enacted the law in an effort to prevent voter fraud.
With all of the House and half of the Senate up for re-election this year, the last thing legislators want is a public hassle over state-issued I.D.’s and getting on airline flights.