The federal Transportation Department is still deciding what to do about headgear in seat belts. But the Obama administration and Congress have moved on to more pressing matters. Take the detente in Congress and the nation’s global trade war. Take climate change. And go into effect Wednesday, if you will, that we’re eating less meat and eating better at home.
But these may all have something to do with a World War II-era law dealing with the safety of our driver’s-license photo. When the law was written, Americans were dying in automobiles at a much lower rate, so there was no pressing reason to make the first head-to-face photos necessary.
But since the law was enacted in 1963, and particularly since Congress has seen fit to pass related legislation that requires the photographer to have a license, dozens of state legislatures have tried to exempt them, contending they would be imposing needless burdens on their drivers.
Here are some of the lower-case obscenities:
“The sovereignty of Washington, D.C., would be greatly jeopardized if it was forbidden by our Constitution, like most states, to exempt itself from such obligations.”
“Threats to Montana’s sovereignty will result in even more lobbying efforts to remove constitutional requirements from states such as Washington, but with a population less than a million, Montana has a smaller threat from the amendment and stronger measures to protect it.”
“The sovereignty of Missouri will be imperiled if we are allowed to not be subject to the Federal Act. If it did not have this restriction, Missouri would be a default object for the project because it is the home of Joseph Stalin.”
“The sovereignty of Michigan … will be imperiled if it is allowed to not be subject to such requirements.”
“The sovereignty of California … will be imperiled if the state is considered to not be subject to the Federal Act.”
“The presence of a photographer in this state complicates the course of a jury’s deliberation because … Florida would be considered to not be subject to the Federal Act.”
None of those is actually an allegation. It’s just a state law that doesn’t necessarily make sense. In 2016, for example, Florida tried to carve out its citizenship exemption in an amendment to the federal law. The bill never reached the Senate floor for a vote.
The bill also tried to carve out a separate exemption for Alabama, which wrote language into the state code saying that the state’s citizenship requirement was the law. But the law pre-dated the 1944 interstate highway system, a period when most American states were sparsely populated.
In 1992, the House passed the Governor’s National Defense Act, which specifically states that any state that wished to exempt itself from the 1982 federal legislation that required the driver’s-license photo to be taken by the state photographer, would not be subject to the provision, regardless of how small its population. It was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.
But most states have exempted themselves. And in 1993, Congress began overriding state laws that allowed them to not be subject to the federal law.
This was a broad, state-by-state protection, granting some states a free pass from having to take photos of their citizens. It was fought not just by big states like California, who say it would unfairly affect its citizens, but also by New York, Oregon and Wyoming, which claimed a tougher-than-necessary state law had already been erected, and there was no basis for this new federal law. This argument is really about state sovereignty, which is a source of much vigorous debate in today’s America.
Despite the fact that states like Michigan and Florida are not exempt from the federal law, and the law is controversial in its own right, there’s no debate. Whatever claim those states made to remove themselves, they were wrong. The legislators who are prohibited from exempting themselves from taking the driver’s-license photo should adhere to the citizenship requirement rather than protest.
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This article appears in the Dec. 2018 issue of New America, a publication of New America Media, an educational and research nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.
Read the original article on New America Media. Copyright 2018. Follow New America Media on Twitter.