JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Several senior advisors to Gov. Jay Nixon testified today before a committee investigating the scanning of documents by the Department of Revenue and the state’s actions complying with the federal REAL ID Act.
The Bipartisan Investigative Committee on Privacy Protection, chaired by Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, met in the Capitol today to hear from senior advisors in Nixon’s inner circle about what involvement the governor and his staff had in implementing security measures through the Department of Revenue that appear to clash with a 2009 state law prohibiting the implementation of REAL ID.
Doug Nelson, Commissioner of the Office of Administration, along with Nixon’s Deputy Chief of Staff Peter Lyskowski and General Counsel Edward Ardini all appeared before the committee. All three testified that Nixon had no involvement in the implementation of document scanning and retention — a practice associated with REAL ID — or of the drafting of communications with the Department of Homeland Security detailing Missouri’s progress in complying with REAL ID.
Prior to a 2009 law signed by Nixon, which prohibited the DOR from making policy changes to comply with REAL ID, the Department undertook several security measures called for by the federal law, according to Lyskowski.
“There’s an overlap between what REAL ID calls for, and what is just good common sense policy for the department,” Lyskowski told the committee. “Was the intention behind implementing fingerprinting for drivers licenses to comply with REAL ID? No. But it is one of the things REAL ID called for.”
Ardini and Nelson, who testified that comparability to REAL ID does not equate to compliance, and thus does not violate state law, echoed Lyskowski’s sentiments. Committee members, though, were quick to criticize the distinction.
“There’s the spirit of the law, and then there’s what the law actually does,” Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Parkville, said. “The spirit of the law was obviously to keep Missouri from complying with REAL ID, but you’re trying to tell me right now that just because we are comparable with the law, that doesn’t mean compliant. But to be comparable you undertook measures that compliance calls for, and that’s what the law was trying to stop.”
Marshall said he was “upset,” and “disturbed” by what he believed was administrative maneuvering to comply with REAL ID without violating the law, something he said Missourians had clearly rejected.
“The courts would nail you on that,” Marshall said. “Courts rule on the spirit of the law, and it’s clear to me that you violated the spirit and intention of this law.”
Committee members chided Nixon’s staffers for helping author a letter to the DHS requesting funding and approval for Missouri to be compliant with standards of REAL ID after the state banned it’s implementation. Ardini said this was because Missouri wanted to indicate that their existing security policies were comparable to REAL ID, and that the federal government should accept them.
Non-compliance with REAL ID meant that Missourians would need to go through additional steps and security measures for certain federal facilities or activities involving identification. Once REAL ID was passed, Missourians — because the state was not compliant — would need additional identification to board an airplane or be employed at the federally regulated Callaway Nuclear power plant. According to Ardini, the state wanted to avoid these extra steps by displaying that while they were not in full compliance with REAL ID, they had security measures comparable to the act.
The distinction appears to highlight the main area of disagreement between the committee and the state government employees involved in the case. Committee members have long argued that comparability with REAL ID violates the 2009 law while witnesses have widely testified that only actions taken with the specific intention of complying with REAL ID would constitute a violation of the law.
Cox said that in light of a number of discrepancies during testimony surrounding both departmental chain-of-command, as well as specific investigatory steps, he will likely seek to subpoena department records of a fraud investigation conducted at the St. Joseph licensing office where more than 3,500 illegal immigrants acquired false identification.
The second day of testimony will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday in the Capitol.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.