JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – While tension has been building among the Senate over the proposed REAL ID legislation in the past few days, it was the House that threw the first punches in the ring.
What is REAL ID?
The REAL ID Act was first brought about 2005, following the aftermath of 9/11, and was created in an attempt to bring more secure identification and protect citizens from threats of terrorism. Currently, 45 states are using the standard or are in the process of putting it in place.
Missouri, however, has been one of the most combative against the federal law, arguing against it under the premise of it violating personal freedoms.
Missouri currently has until January 22, 2018, to begin implementing REAL ID. If they do not, Missourians would need a passport or some other federally-regulated form of identification to fly. They would also be unable to access military bases, courthouses or federal buildings.
The Missouri delegation to Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of the 2005 REAL ID Act, and the legislation even finished with a unanimous 100-0 vote in the U.S. Senate. Missouri’s own Sen. Roy Blunt was a co-sponsor of the original bill while serving in the U.S. House.
But the thing that makes this topic so interesting in terms of the debate is that, here in Missouri, two conflicting ideological views, both represented by the same party, are being argued by Republicans. Conservatives believe in fighting against federal overreach, but they also fiercely believe in protecting citizens from threats of terrorism. In essence, they’re battling their own kind.
Prior to this week, Sen. Will Kraus, R- Lee’s Summit, circulated a petition among members of the Senate that would ask Attorney General Josh Hawley to take action against the federal government in regards to REAL ID.
In the letter to the Attorney General, the senators argue that Missourians want their privacy, and also state that legislation passed in 2013 expressly prohibits the Department of Revenue from keeping source documents used to get a driver’s license.
Along with Kraus, Sens. Andrew Koenig, Rob Schaaf, Ed Emery, Bob Onder, Brian Munzlinger, Paul Wieland, Bill Eigel, Wayne Wallingford, and Doug Libla also signed the petition, which was sent to Hawley.
The Attorney General has not commented on the letter or spoken as to whether he will take any action on the matter.
Turning to social media
But Kraus’ fight against REAL ID did not stop there. Kraus took to Twitter on Sunday evening, saying “I will be debating #REALID on the Senate floor this week. I’m standing on the side of privacy and pushing back on Federal Govt. overreach.”
Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, quickly fired back, saying “I will be debating #REALID on the Senate Floor this week. I’m standing on the side of liberty & letting you decide what is best for you.”
While members of the General Assembly continued firing away on social media about REAL ID, nothing seemed to come from it as they returned to Jefferson City on Monday.
The debate begins
Rep. Kevin Corlew’s bill, the House counterpart of the Senate bills filed by Sens. Silvey and Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, appeared on the House floor Tuesday afternoon. As promised, it led to strong debate – and a whopping 16 amendments filed to change Corlew’s HB 151.
Opponents of the bill argued that it violates several of the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, including their rights to privacy. They also argue that the required scanning and retaining of source documents puts Missouri citizens at risk from cyber attacks, a growing concern over the past years following major hackings of several large companies.
The House took up a number of the amendments for the debate, including one filed by Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, which would require any lawmaker who supports the bill to display a sign at any election reading:
“I would rather kneel to the federal government than stand strong protecting my constituents’ right to privacy.”
It was promptly shot down by a House vote of 119 to 21.
The Senate takes up the debate
After days of anticipation, Silvey and Rowden’s SB 37 & 244 finally appeared on the Senate floor. The Kansas City senator took to the floor, imploring his fellow senators to push the legislation through, saying it was owed to the citizens of Missouri.
Silvey says his bill is simply about offering Missourians a choice. The legislation would offer Missourians the option to choose whether to get the REAL ID or choose instead to receive a non-compliant ID.
Rowden says that choice is inherent in an American’s right to live free.
“The ultimate freedom is to choose for yourself,” Rowden said. “That’s what this legislation seeks to do. At its very core, the nature of conservatism is to let individuals have their liberty, to let individuals be free of government interference as often as humanly possible. In my view, that is the most basic principle of conservatism.”
“It seems just a smidge arrogant, for us to think that somehow we know better, that our breadth of knowledge as it relates to REAL ID and all of the various nooks and crannies of the government gives us more power and knowledge to say you shouldn’t do this, you can’t do this. There is an arrogant element in that mentality that I think in this case isn’t necessary and isn’t warranted,” Rowden continued.
The real showdown
It didn’t take long for Sens. Kraus and Silvey to face off in a head-to-head match on the Senate floor, and the two hotly debated the topic.
Kraus called the legislation a “camel’s nose,” which is a metaphor in which by allowing a small, seemingly innocuous act could open the door for larger, clearly undesirable actions.
“This is a cursor to a federal ID. It’s a mandated idea,” Kraus argued. “I believe in states’ rights, I don’t think the feds should be giving mandates down to the states. I do not want to fast track a bill through, I’m looking to try to solve a problem and push back against government overreach. “
Silvey responded that by not implementing REAL ID, the legislature is actually telling people what they can or cannot do, and are, in and of themselves, overreaching.
“We could kill this bill today, we could walk out of here. We don’t lose any of our civil rights if this bill doesn’t pass. We lose none of our federal protections if this bill dies,” Silvey said. “Nothing happens to the state of Missouri except they are incredibly inconvenienced against their will.”
Does it make Missouri safer?
Proponents of REAL ID say that the federal standard would improve the reliability and accuracy of state-issued identification documents, which in theory could prevent terrorists from getting access by using fraudulent identification.
“I am 100 percent for validating who a person is, but I don’t believe that REAL ID is a real protection,” Kraus said, arguing that it did little to protect Americans. “I don’t believe verifying and identifying individuals is going to prevent anything from happening. Would this have prevented 9/11?”
“This issue is a national security issue. It touches immigration,” Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, said. “For goodness sake, we don’t have to have an extreme condition.”
Show me the money
Kraus said he was “shocked and appalled” to see that the fiscal note attached to the bill showed that by implementing REAL ID, it would actually bring an estimated $9.7 million into the state revenue. If implemented, Missourians would be required to pay a duplicate license fee of $7.50.
Silvey responded, saying it was a shame that they were forcing Missourians into a situation in which they had to be delaying the process for all of these years, that their own inaction since 2009 has brought this on the citizens.
Kraus then brought forward an amendment, seeking to protect Missouri’s citizens from those costs. Silvey said that he would support such an amendment.
After much more debate, the two disappeared behind closed doors. Many suspected that Kraus would filibuster the bill, but he stated on the floor that he didn’t intend to do so.
But just a short time later, the REAL ID debate ended after nearly three hours, as Silvey asked that the bill be laid over on the informal calendar.
Some Republicans still hope that President Donald Trump will take action on the REAL ID measure, and after the debate, Silvey told the Missouri Times that there’s still time to act and that it doesn’t hurt to give the federal government some time before eventually having to make a decision. It’s expected that the legislation could be taken up once again after the spring break.
Missouri’s lawmakers have until the end of the legislative session in May to pass REAL ID and avoid non-compliance.