MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA
U. S. Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus called a May 11 deadline for compliance with federal Real ID rules "arbitrary and ineffective," and asked the Depar tment of Homeland Security to exempt states from it. Homeland Security shot right back. "Perhaps these Senators neglected to read the law that Congress passed, which actually set the date," said agency spokesman Russ Knocke. Montana is one of just a few states that has so far refused to seek an extension to identification rules by March 31, which Homeland Security says would be good enough at this point to comply with the May 11 deadline. The agency says residents from noncompliant states could face extra screenings at airports and federal buildings. Baucus and Tester, both Democrats, along with Republican John Sununu of New Hampshire and Democrat Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, sent a letter Wednesday to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, asking him to scrap the deadline or answer their questions about the process. "It is our position that this deadline is both arbitrary and ineffective and imposes unnecessary burdens on all parties without enhancing our national secur i ty, " the senators wrote. "Furthermore, the department has not taken the steps necessary to implement this deadline effectively. We therefore respectfully request you exempt all 50 States from the May 11, 2008, deadline." Homeland Security has said a Montana driver's license will not qualify as legal identification at airports and federal buildings after May 11. Montana, Maine, South Carolina and New Hampshire are the only states that have not complied with the deadline. "Forty-six states, accounting for 97 percent of the licenses issued in the United States, are already on the road to driver's license security," Knocke said. "That's because the American public's desire for greater identity protection is undeniable." The senators said Homeland Security acknowledges that none of the states will actually comply with legislative identification requirements. And full implementation of Real ID is on hold until 2017. "Both of these facts call into question the logic behind maintaining the May 11 deadline," the letter said. "These regulations raise disturbing constitutional issues regarding the ability of some citizens to travel freely and access their federal government." If the agency does not lift the deadline, the senators said, Chertoff needs to tell them why state residents could face secondary screening and what that additional screenings would entail, if anyone would be prevented from boarding airplanes, and other questions. "Come May 11 there will be very real implications for residents of states whose leadership chooses against REAL ID compliance," Knocke said. "At a minimum, they will be subjected to additional scrutiny and screening." The agency said Montanans could travel with a passport to avoid the extra scrutiny. The Montana Legislature unanimously passed a law that prohibits the state from complying with the Real ID act, and Gov. Brian Schweitzer has been an outspoken critic. U. S. Rep. Denny Rehberg says he has opposed Real ID ever since the legislative vote, although he says the state should work with Homeland Security to get an extension without harming its ability to oppose Real ID in the future. The Montana attorney general's office is deciding whether the new state law bars Montana from even asking for the extension.