Arizona GOP lawmakers vow fight against 3-in-1 licenseBy Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX — A group of Republican lawmakers and the head of the state’s ACLU vowed Wednesday to kill a plan by Gov. Janet Napolitano to create a “technologically enhanced’’ state driver’s license.
Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, the leading foe, said the deal Napolitano inked with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is a step toward totalitarianism. “This isn’t Nazi Germany,’’ the senator said. “And I oppose requiring people to carry tracking devices in their pockets,’’ she continued, referring to the fact these licenses will have radio frequency identification computer chips.
But Napolitano argued that the Mesa Republican lawmaker is on the political fringe. “With all respects, you’ve got to look at who’s making the press conference,’’ the governor said of Sen. Karen Johnson. Napolitano said Johnson has “an ideological bent that ... doesn’t represent the majority of Arizonans.’’
Napolitano also said those who fear the new license — and the databanks to which it might be linked — do not have to obtain one.
But Johnson said those who oppose the plan are not “paranoid.’’ “I think they just value very much their privacy,’’ the senator said. “And although it is voluntary at the moment, once the federal government gets involved I have no faith that it would stay voluntary.’’
At this point Johnson and her allies may have the upper hand: Napolitano admitted she can’t fulfill her agreement with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff unless the Legislature gives the state Department of Motor Vehicles permission to actually create a new license.
The state Senate voted last year to bar Arizona from participating in the federal government’s Real ID program approved two years ago by Congress. That law requires states to issue licenses the Department of Homeland Security believes are secure and readable by machines. It also says those without a Real ID-compliant license will not be able to board aircraft —even for domestic flights — or enter federal buildings.
The measure also was approved by two House committees but never got a final vote.
There actually are two issues here. First is Napolitano’s agreement to create an enhanced license which would be not only evidence of ability to drive but also serve as proof of citizenship.
That would allow Arizonans to drive or walk across the border without a passport that otherwise will be required next year. And Napolitano said it also would allow employers to be sure the person holding it is in this country legally.
But that license also would have a computer chip which can be read at by scanners.
Napolitano said the chips contain no personal information but simply a unique identification number. She said only someone with access to the state Department of Public Safety database could learn anything more about the holder.
And Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said the maximum range for reading the chips is between 10 and 20 feet.
But Alessandra Meetze, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that provides little comfort, even if true. She said it still would permit anyone with the right electronic equipment to track the movements of individuals.
The second issue is Napolitano also agreed to have Arizona driver licenses compliant with the requirements of the federal Real ID Act “as soon as practicable’’ after the government finally issues its rules. Johnson said it is irresponsible of the governor to agree to that without knowing exactly what is required. Napolitano countered that “as soon as practicable’’ language allows her to opt out if she later decides the rules don’t make sense or if the federal government doesn’t bear the cost.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, chided Napolitano for signing the agreement without looking at the broader concerns of not only privacy but state sovereignty. “She simply said, ‘I’m the queen of Arizona, I want to give the feds the authority to come in here and control one of our agencies,’ and that’s what she did,’’ he said.
Napolitano said she did consider the needs of Arizonans and concluded the new type of license makes sense. “Our people right now are going to be subject to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative,’’ she said, referring to the upcoming change in federal regulations that will require U.S. resident to present actual proof of citizenship to come here from Canada or Mexico. “We have lots of Arizonans that go back and forth all the time.’’
And Napolitano said the enhanced license, as evidence of citizenship, can serve as proof of the right to work in this country legally. She said that will help employers comply with a new law, set to take effect Jan. 1, which lets a judge suspend o revoke the state licenses of firms which knowingly hire undocumented workers.