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Identity crisis: Local activists say Real ID is bad for New York.

PHOTO: Nicole Klaas

Your Real ID, Please

Activists urge Gov. Spitzer to oppose an unfunded national-ID law


In the future, millions of Americans may have to present their passport in order to hop a cross-country flight. The idea may sound strange, but within a few years, it could be a reality for residents of states such as Idaho and Maine, where legislators have voted to oppose a federal personal- identification act that was intended as an antiterrorism measure but is described as an unfunded mandate by its critics. In New York, several activist organizations are hoping Gov. Eliot Spitzer will lead this state to do the same.

The Real ID Act passed Congress as a rider on the 2005 military-spending bill. The measure establishes national standards for state driver’s licenses and non-driver identification documents. After the Jan. 1, 2010, compliance deadline, federal agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration at airport screening stations will accept only IDs that conform to the national standards, including passports and licenses from compliant states.

While the need to secure a passport for internal air travel may seem cumbersome at first, it’s a small price when compared to the loss of privacy, hike in driver’s license fees, and the bureaucratic mess New Yorkers would encounter if the state agrees to comply with the Real ID Act, according to opponents. Representatives from a handful of activist organizations gathered for a press conference at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany Tuesday (April 10) in order to air these and other grievances about the national law.

“The Real ID Act is a real fiscal and bureaucratic nightmare for New Yorkers,” said Melanie Trimble, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. She called the measure an unfunded federal mandate that would damage public safety because the money necessary to comply with the act would be drawn from antiterrorism funds. Additional costs likely would be borne by residents in the form of increased driver’s-license fees.

Opponents of the Real ID Act also contend that compliance would create considerable inconveniences for the average citizen. For example, in order to obtain a Real ID-compliant license, residents would be unable to take advantage of online or mail-in license-renewal options and instead would be required to appear in person at the Department of Motor Vehicles. This and the additional work for DMV employees may contribute to longer wait times or the need for repeat visits.

As part of the new standards, ID applicants would be required to provide documentation to prove name, birth date, legal status, Social Security number and address. Digital images of these documents would be stored in each state’s DMV database.

“The Real ID Act will violate New Yorkers’ privacy rights as it will create, for the first time in the nation’s history, a real national ID card,” Trimble continued. “The large network of identity papers, databases, status and identity checks could lead to the Real ID becoming an internal passport that will facilitate government tracking of citizen’s movements.” It also would be an ideal situation for identity thieves, she added, because large amounts of personal information would be stored in one location.

“It’s a form of junk security,” said Guillermo Perez of the measure’s antiterrorism ambitions. Perez represented the Albany/Capital District Chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the organization responsible for Tuesday’s meeting.

In addition to the broad and direct implications the Real ID Act has for all Americans, LCLAA opposes the measure also because of its affect on the immigrant community, particularly those who cannot prove their identity because they lack the approved documentary evidence.

According to Perez, the Real ID Act would turn the DMV into an enforcement agency, tasked with imposing fed eral immigration laws. He called this an improper function of the DMV and added that the requirements would further push immigrants underground.

“A system that discourages hundreds of thousands of undocumented New Yorkers from obtaining valid driver’s licenses will lead to an increase in the number of unregistered, unlicensed and uninsured drivers,” Perez said. “That’s bad for all of us.”

The deadline for Real-ID-Act compliance originally was slated for May 11, 2008, but was delayed until the beginning of 2010 during March after pressure from angry state and federal lawmakers.

At least 20 state legislatures are considering bills to oppose the law.

—Nicole Klaas

What a Week

Dead Man Talking

After facing heavy criticism for on-air remarks he made last week about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, longtime talk show host Don Imus was suspended for two weeks by CBS Radio and MSNBC. Imus, whose visage bears a striking resemblance to that of a mummy, referred to the women as “nappy-headed hos,” and a co-host referred to the NCAA title game between Rutgers and Tennessee as the “wannabes versus the jiggaboos.” Imus later apologized on the radio show of civil-rights activist Al Sharpton. Sharpton and others have been calling for Imus to be fired. Rutgers players said they were “highly angered” and “deeply saddened” by the remarks.

Don’t Let the Door Hit You

The most devout loathers of President George Bush can hardly wait for the end of his presidency, and some industrious people have come up with a way for Bush haters to bide their time. The fine folks at feature a Bush-presidency-countdown clock that can be downloaded to any desktop theme, Web site or MySpace page. As of this writing there are 650 days, 13 hours, 45 minutes, and 40 seconds until Bush must bid the White House adieu.

Bread-and-Butter Brain Buster

A reporter in Alabama stumped Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani Tuesday when he asked the former mayor of New York City a question about the price of staple products such as milk and bread. Giuliani priced one gallon of milk at around $1.50 and a loaf of break at about $1.25 or $1.30. Not so in New York City or Montgomery, Ala., where prices for milk average more than $3 with bread ringing up at least $2, according to an Associated Press report.

Not Feeling the Love

Vice President Dick Cheney must get the feeling he isn’t having a good run. He was the target of a suicide bomber last month, and his polling numbers have dipped to historic lows. Now even the students at notoriously conservative Brigham Young University have said that they don’t like him. According to the Associated Press, students on the Mormon campus have organized an effort to force the college to withdraw their invitation to the vice president to speak.

High-Speed Debate

Telecommunications bill aims to reshape the industry, and draws fire from community media organizations and major corporations

“It is the consumer-protection pack age that we need in New York,” said state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester) of Assembly Bill 3980. Brodsky is the bill’s sponsor. “It lowers rates, it enhances public access, it deals with universal and affordable service. It preserves what’s called net neutrality.”

The bill proposes to reform the telecommunications industry in New York by creating a Broadband Development Authority to oversee an increase in the availability and quality of high-speed broadband Internet. It also aims to increase the telecommunication industry’s investment in infrastructure, as well as to promote cable-television competition within the state.

Peter Sikora, research coordinator for Communication Workers of America, which supports the bill, said that telecommunications is an important, changing industry that needs to be addressed and properly regulated. “Society is insisting that you need high-speed Internet, but there’s no government backing for it,” he said, “so we’re leaving it up to the quote-unquote free market.”

One of the more contentious parts of the bill calls for statewide franchise agreements. This “would cut the cities and towns out of the picture,” said Michael Max Knobbe, chair of Alliance for Community Media New York.

Currently, a cable company wishing to provide service to an area must work out an agreement with the municipality directly. Because the company is using the public right-of-way for power lines, a certain percentage of resources must be allotted to fund public, educational, and governmental programs, or PEGs. Bill 3980 grants the state the power to make such agreements.

The concept of statewide licensing has caused some members of community media organizations, like Knobbe, as well as others such as state Assemblyman Peter Rivera (D-Bronx), to speculate that telecommunications companies want to enter only lucrative markets. This will, they argue, result in the redlining of poor districts and an increase in the digital divide between rural and urban communities. They also fear that, without localized agreements, the ability for individual communities to negotiate terms that best serve them is taken away and given to the state.

A spokeswoman for Verizon said that her company also opposes the bill and feels that the proposed regulations will slow product development. She mentioned net neutrality as a specific point of contention. (A neutral network, the center of the complex and contentious issue of net neutrality, would be one in which service providers couldn’t place undue restrictions on access for customers.)

“We’ve listened very carefully to those concerns, and we’ve addressed them,” Brodsky said. “We have the best anti-redlining language in the country.” The bill would require that a company with a statewide agreement serve 50 percent of the state after three years, and 85 percent after six.

Sikora argued that it is the current system that allows companies to pick and choose which markets they enter, whereas Bill 3980 would ensure that the services serve most of the state, resulting in increased competition and a widespread availability of affordable service.

Knobbe voiced another concern. He said that when legislation similar to Bill 3980 took effect in other states, “PEG access facilities were forced to close because of uncertainties and inconsistencies with the bill and some of the technical language not being considered enough,” he said. “We don’t want to repeat mistakes made in other places.”

But Sikora said that this is not the case with this bill. “When you have a franchise agreement, the town and municipalities negotiate for a percentage [for PEG access funding]. Some towns get 5 percent and some do not,” Sikora said. “3980 requires 5 percent.”

The bill also contains strong “consumer and worker protection,” he added.

In addition to Verizon, the bill is also opposed by Time Warner and CableVision.

“I’ve united them,” Brodsky said jokingly of the companies’ opposition to the bill. “This is the one that’s actually good for real people.”

—David Canfield

Reform Minded

Statewide civic groups look beyond a shady budget process with hopes for a session of progress

“It was the ugliest process I’ve seen in several years,” said the League of Women Voters’ Barbara Bartoletti, of the recent state budget process. “Certainly the last couple of years of the [George] Pataki administration, the Legislature had open conference committees where the rank-and-file were beginning to actually debate in public the issues that were important to their constituents. This year, although we had one open meeting with five leaders, it quickly became five men in a room behind closed doors.”

Rachel Leon, of Common Cause, agreed.

“It was one of the more secretive budget processes in recent memory,” Leon said. “They passed budget reforms in January, and then they retreated to a backroom to cut the deals.” It was a move egged on by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and other leaders’ desire to expedite the process, she added, and not wind up with a late budget.

“The governor had raised expectations that on Day One everything changed and that this process was going to be open, transparent and accountable,” Bartoletti said. “However, I think the on-time budget, because we went through this whole comptroller show, that they weren’t able to get this process begun in a timely manner.”

“They went back to the bad old days to get it done,” Leon added. “They decided it was more important to get it done fast than be deliberative.”

And while Bartoletti believes Gov. Spitzer when he says he didn’t like the process either, she said that her organization and other good-government groups will be careful to hold both the governor and the legislative leaders to their word that they truly want to be reformers. “I don’t think the leaders of the Legislature or the governor can continue to call themselves reformers if next year they don’t bring in an open and transparent budget process.”

To that end, Leon said, her organization and others will be looking to the remaining days of the spring session. “We are looking at the roadmap for reform for the rest of the session,” she said. “We are looking at what has to happen to have a good reform year.”

What has to happen? A combination of bills need to be advanced, she said, that will address the state’s campaign-finance laws. Some of the most egregious problems are the unlimited amounts of “soft money” that can be donated to a candidate, the extraordinary amounts of money that can be legally donated to a campaign, and the inadequate disclosure of funding expected by of a candidate.

“True reform doesn’t happen until you reform the culture of Albany, and the culture of Albany is institutionalized with the incumbency protection machine of redistricting and aided by the incumbency protection program of campaign finance,” Bartoletti said. “Where as an incumbent you can raise and personally use your campaign monies. Someone who is opposed can still raise money and gets to spend those campaign dollars on personal use. And we have seen vacations, cars, Christmas parties, all kinds of things.”

She anticipates that Gov. Spitzer will support such legislation, as he campaigned on campaign-finance reform, even mentioning the issue in his State of the State. On April 23, Reform Day, people will be coming to Albany to lobby the Legislature en masse, and Bartoletti and Leon are hoping that the governor is there, too.

—Chet Hardin


Citizens Union, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and NYPIRG will hold a press conference on their session reform agenda today (Thursday, April 12) at noon in Room 130 in the Legislative Office Building.

And the Winners Are . . .

Metroland writers honored at annual New York Press Association conference

Metroland garnered three awards this year at the New York Press Association’s Better Newspaper competition.

News editor Chet Hardin brought home the competitive Writer of the Year award.

“Mr. Hardin used dialog, detail and description to wrap the reader in a sense of place and atmosphere,” the judges wrote. “His topics are provocative, contemporary and often important and he moves easily from zoning issues to trend stories.”

Nicole Klaas and Miriam Axel-Lute were honored with a first-place in the Coverage of Health, Health Care & Science category, for, respectively, the stories “Making Babies, for a Price” (Dec. 7, 2006) and “Breaking the Trust” (Jan. 5, 2006).

Staff writer Klaas also was honored with third place in the Rookie Reporter of the Year category. The judges said that “Nicole writes complete, comprehensive, unbiased stories—she does a great job of localizing national issues.”

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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