Montana Adopts Legal-Presence Requirement of REAL ID Act

By Janice Kephart on April 21, 2011

Montana has just passed a law requiring both legal presence for driver's license applicants and expiration of a driver's license on the same day that the holder's federally mandated legal presence expires (in the case of nonimmigrants). Oddly, this is the same REAL ID secure driver license law that Montana's Gov. Brian Schweitzer described in March 2008 on NPR as a "harebrained scheme" for "kookie IDs that do not make us more secure." Back then, Schweitzer touted that his legislature voted 150 to 0 to not implement REAL ID. On April 18, 2011, three years later, he partially swallowed his words (although he had not a word to say) by signing a law that directly supports the legal presence aspects of REAL ID. The law had passed the House and Senate by more than two-to-one.

By way of an interesting side note to the entire "REAL ID is way too expensive" line of argumentation that has been used for years by detractors, the fiscal analysis of the Montana law projects a whopping $2 cost per foreign national, or $5,000 per year, to implement the Montana law. The analysis uses a figure of 2,500 foreign nationals applying for driver's licenses on average in Montana.

I'm wondering what Gov. Schweitzer was fussing about, really? Perhaps the governor will recant his prior comments and join the 41 of 50 states that have told the Department of Homeland Security they are fully compliant, or intend to fully comply, with all of REAL ID (even if the DHS is still trying to hide that fact from the American people). Maybe that's a kookie, harebrained jump towards optimism. But in this context, I kind of like the governor's colorful language.