Report: National ID card, eminent domain, could trample states' rights

Associated Press/RACHEL LA CORTE | August 18 2005

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- States are continuing to see their authority stepped on by the federal government, something that not only curtails their independence in dealing with such matters as elections and education, but in the case of a new national ID card, could cost them financially, according to a new report.

In the report released Tuesday, the National Conference of State Legislatures, 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, something NCSL officials estimate could cost states $13 billion as they scramble to restructure motor vehicle offices.

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

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated 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 additional equipment.

"The states aren't set up that way. They have no resources for determining people's eligibility," 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."

Sen. Michael Balboni, R-N.Y., noted that states were working with the federal government on creating standards, but that they were ultimately left out of the law that passed.

"The REAL ID Act handcuffs state officials with unworkable, unproven, costly mandates that compel states to enforce federal immigration policy rather than advance the paramount objective of making state-issued identity documents more secure and verifiable," he said in prepared remarks at a news conference announcing the report.

The national ID is one of a handful of recently enacted laws that NCSL, in another report, cite as unfunded mandates from the federal government - where Congress and the government shift the cost of many programs to the states. NCSL says that the federal government has shifted at least $51 billion in costs over the last two years to state and local governments.

Another issue lawmakers are talking about this week is Congress' reaction to a recent Supreme Court decision on eminent domain.

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

Several bills are pending on the matter, including a bid by conservative Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., to bar federal transportation funds from being used to make improvements on lands seized through eminent domain for private development.

Legislation in the works also would ban the use of federal money for any project getting the go-ahead using the Kelo v. City of New London (Conn.) decision.

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.

Hurson said that the states need to maintain the right to make the decision for themselves without threat of retribution from the federal government.

Other areas of intrusion on state's authority cited by NCSL are:

-The No Child Left Behind Act, under which states must ensure all students are proficient in reading and math by the 2013-2014 school year.

"None of us have a problem with making educational systems accountable," Hurson said. "We all agree with that philosophy. But different states have different needs. One size does not fit all when it comes to education."

-The Secure America's Vote Act of 2005 would amend the Help America Vote Act and establishes uniform standards for the counting of provisional ballots cast at wrong polling places. HAVA allows states to create their own laws concerning provisional ballots, but this bill would pre-empt those laws. The measure has been referred to the House Committee on House Administration.

-A bill referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee that pre-empts state laws regulating the sale of pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient of methamphetamine, by requiring that all substances containing it, like Sudafed, be sold from behind pharmacy counters and not open-shelf displays. Some states, like Washington, have already passed laws like this. Oregon has approved a law, the first in the nation, to require prescriptions for medicines containing pseudoephedrine.