ANNAPOLIS — The O'Malley administration said yesterday that Maryland would implement the federal Real ID Act by 2010 and require all drivers to prove they are U.S. citizens.
State Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said Maryland on Jan. 1, 2010, will begin requiring drivers to prove they are U.S. citizens, and that all drivers would have to get new licenses by Jan. 1, 2017.
The Real ID Act bars illegal aliens from obtaining a federally approved identification card, which is required for boarding airplanes and entering federal buildings.
"Maryland cannot be an island among surrounding states," Mr. Porcari told lawmakers in Annapolis for the 2008 General Assembly session. "This step is necessary to protect the integrity of the state's primary form of identification and combat the use of fraudulent identification."
Maryland is one of only eight states that grants a driver's license to illegal aliens. Virginia and Pennsylvania are among the 42 states that do not allow illegals to have one. The District also does not allow illegal aliens to obtain a driver's license.
Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, said he and other governors are hoping for reform from Congress and the White House, but until then the state will implement Real ID.
"These are things they haven't thought through, frankly, in the Bush administration," he said. "The attitude frankly has been 'Do it because we said so' rather than thinking through the implications of this."
Republican lawmakers are still concerned about illegal aliens obtaining a Maryland driver's license for the next couple years.
"So until 2010, we're going to knowingly continue to have Maryland be the state for surrounding areas to obtain fraudulent licenses," said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican. "That's a shame."
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Friday issued nearly 300 pages of Real ID guidelines, which Maryland transportation officials said they are still reading.
State transportation officials expect implementing the changes will cost $60 million to $80 million, which will be paid through increased fees for Maryland drivers when renewing a license.
Mr. Porcari said the federal mandate makes the state's motor vehicle administration the "de facto national identity card people."
"It is asking an awful lot of frontline MVA personnel," he said. "We're going to make the best of what we have."
The agency on Jan. 1, 2010, will begin requiring anybody renewing or applying for a new license to prove his or her citizenship or legal residency.
However, drivers born after Jan. 1, 1964, will be allowed to use their current license until Jan. 1, 2014. Drivers born before Jan. 1, 1964, will be given until Jan. 1, 2017, to get a new license.
Conservative lawmakers have frequently tried and failed to get legislation through the Democrat-controlled Assembly to bring Maryland into compliance with Real ID requirements.
And there is no guarantee the new rules will take effect in Maryland because a new president will be elected in November and he or she could repeal the Real ID act.
"A new administration in Washington would bring some sanity to this process," said Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, a Montgomery Democrat and Real ID opponent.
Liberal lawmakers and advocates for illegal aliens want all drivers — including the estimated 250,000 illegal aliens living in Maryland — to be properly regulated.
"I'd rather know the person in front of me on the Beltway knows what they're doing," said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., Montgomery Democrat.