- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The federal government is continuing to curtail state independence in matters such as elections and education, a report says, but in the case of a new national ID card, the loss of authority could cost states financially.

In the report released today, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a bipartisan group meeting in Seattle this week, documents pending legislation that pre-empts state authority, a problem that many say has increased in the past few years.

“The trend has not been good,” said John Hurson, a Democratic state lawmaker from Maryland and NCSL president. “The states are out there fighting the good fight and passing good public policy and the federal government comes along … and they’ll try to pass something that says states have to do it a certain way.”

At the forefront is the furor over a national ID card. NCSL officials estimate that the card could cost states $13 billion as they scramble to restructure motor vehicle offices.

The Real ID Act, which Congress passed in June as part of an $82 billion military spending bill, requires states by 2008 to verify whether driver’s license applicants are U.S. citizens or legal residents of the United States.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the law will cost states $100 million over the next five years. The law authorizes grants for the states to cover those costs.

But critics say the grants will cover only a small amount of the states’ costs. NCSL spokesman Bill Wyatt said states will need to hire more people with special training, and buy additional equipment.

“The states aren’t set up that way. They have no resources for determining people’s eligibility,” Mr. Wyatt said. “Not only does it step on our right to set policy as to who can get a driver’s license, but it also reaches into our pocket.”

The national ID is one example that NCSL cites as unfunded mandates. The group says the federal government has shifted at least $51 billion in costs over the past two years to state and local governments.

Lawmakers this week also are talking about Congress’ reaction to a Supreme Court decision on eminent domain.

In a 5-4 ruling in June, the Supreme Court said municipalities have broad power to bulldoze homes and put up shopping malls or other private development to generate tax revenue.

Several bills are pending on the matter.

Rep. Scott Garrett, New Jersey Republican, has introduced legislation to bar federal transportation funds from being used to make improvements on lands seized through eminent domain for private development.

At least eight states — Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina and Washington — already forbid the use of eminent domain for economic development unless it is to eliminate blight. Other states either expressly allow private property to be taken for private economic purposes or have not spoken clearly to the question.

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