O’Malley banks on a Democrat

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ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Martin O’Malley told lawmakers yesterday he hopes a Democrat will win the presidential election this fall, which will save him from implementing a federal lawthat allows only U.S. citizens to receive driver’s licenses.

“I was very pleased,” said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, Montgomery Democrat, who attended the Women’s Legislative Caucus breakfast where Mr. O’Malley made the statement.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said he is primarily concerned about the cost of the program, known as the Real ID Act, after saying last month he would implement the law by Jan. 1, 2010.

Supporters of the federal program who attended the breakfast said Mr. O’Malley was stalling to dodge the issue.

“We’re trying to figure out where he stands on this,” said Delegate Jeannie Haddaway, Eastern Shore Republican.

Mrs. Haddaway said she and other members of the women’s caucus — which hosts annual breakfasts with Maryland governors — were only somewhat surprised at Mr. O’Malley’s announcement.

O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said the governor has “never shied away” from the issue.

He also said charges that Mr. O’Malley is stalling are “ridiculous” and said federal regulators only recently released 300 pages of guidelines that state transportation officials were still parsing.

Delegate Ron George, lead sponsor of a proposal in the 2008 General Assembly to force the state to comply with Real ID, said he’s had trouble working with the O’Malley administrationto pass a bill that would implement Real ID this year.

“It’s all been a stall tactic,” said Mr. George, Anne Arundel Republican. “He’s hoping for Hillary [Clinton] or [Barack] Obama to decide not to implement this. I got news for them: It’s not going back.”

Senate Minority Leader David R. Brinkley, Frederick Republican, said Mr. O’Malley is saying “a Democratic administration will lessen the standard of identification, which is what we count on for security and flying, and getting into federal installations. For somebody who’s such a strong proponent of Hillary Clinton, that’s a pretty derogatory statement to make.”

The Real ID act requires license-holders to prove they are legal citizens to board airplanes and enter federal buildings. However, the measure has become a proxy in the larger battle over illegal entry.

Maryland is one of eight states to grant driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.

State transportation officials estimate implementing the new law will cost $60 million to $80 million.

The O’Malley administration previously floated the idea of a two-tiered ID system that would require legal residents to obtain one license but still allow illegal aliens to obtain a driver’s license. However, the idea was short-lived after protests from supporters and opponents alike.

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